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Officials Confirm Locust Spotting in Tel Aviv Region


Agriculture Ministry officials are confirming reports of the spotting of 'desert locusts' in the Tel Aviv region, adding experts have been dispatched to evaluate the situation. At present, it is believed the number is limited to tens or hundreds, adding the ministry is taking precautions to deal with an infestation should one occur.

Round Two: Sharon's Weak Victory


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon emerged scarred and weakened, Wednesday night, after the Knesset gave him only 64 votes for allowing his Expulsion Procedures bill to continue on its rocky legislative road. The bill, a necessary step in Prime Minister Sharon's Disengagement Plan, aims to dismantle 25 Jewish communities and turn their land over to the Palestinian Authority.

The Labor and Yahad parties joined the pro-expulsion Likud faction and Shinui, while 17 Likud MKs and the Shas, National Union, United Torah Judaism and National Religious parties cast 44 votes against the bill. The Knesset's nine Arab members abstained. His smaller than hoped for majority, along with his being forced to delay presenting the 2005 budget bill, fueled opponents' hope that Sharon's plan will collapse with a no-confidence vote and new elections.

Labor party leader Dalia Itzik said the victory proved there is "sweeping support among the Knesset and public" for Sharon's idea. However, the Prime Minister's support fell three votes since last week, when 67 MKs approved the program "in principle." Moreover, the Prime Minister Wednesday had to delay presenting next year's budget when it became clear it would not pass.

National Union MK Tzvi Hendel said Sharon now has become "the official leader of Peace Now and the extreme left." Peace Now is an organization that often demonstrates solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. The Peace Now organization welcomed the passage of the Expulsion Procedures bill, and called on the Knesset to extend the legislation to all of the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Arafat's Health Takes Sudden Turn for the Worse

By Ha'aretz

The condition of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat deteriorated suddenly Wednesday evening in the private hospital outside Paris where he is being treated, Palestinian officials said. Arafat was placed in intensive care at the military hospital where he was brought for treatment Friday. Only his wife Suha, who lives in Paris, and a handful of aides were informed and no visitors were allowed to see him. The hospital did not issue any statement.

The deterioration was said to be sudden and unexpected. The cause of Arafat's disorder is viral, making it difficult to treat with medicine. French doctors treating him had earlier ruled out leukemia. "There is a setback in Abu Amar's health. The doctors are carrying out tests to try to explain why this happened," said the Palestinian envoy to Paris, Leila Shahid, using Arafat's nom de guerre. But while some Palestinians officials confirmed the deterioration in Arafat's condition, former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan insisted Arafat was in "stable condition."

It was not clear if the PA chairman's life was in danger after the change in his condition. He first became ill during the Ramadan fast when his doctors said he was suffering from flu. Israel allowed him to be taken from his Muqata headquarters after his condition worsened. Earlier Wednesday, Shahid said Arafat felt well enough to ask about the U.S. presidential election, and an aide later issued a statement in Arafat's name congratulating George W. Bush on his re-election. At the time, Shahid also said Arafat's health was improving.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Wednesday that officials were closely monitoring Arafat's health, following criticism last week when they were caught off guard by the sudden change in his health. "We are tracking his condition very carefully," he told Israel Radio. "Our aim is to prepare for the day after, if he dies."

Does Arafat Have AIDS?

By Malcolm Thornberry ((c) 2004)(Commentary)

As French doctors continue to run tests on Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat some medical authorities not connected directly to his case are suggesting that he may have HIV/AIDS. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, earlier this week, said that all types of cancer had been ruled out.

Arafat has been visibly ill for more than two weeks. Last Wednesday he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness. Initial blood tests performed in the West Bank revealed a low blood platelet count. The Palestinian leader was airlifted to France where he is undergoing more tests. But, with leukemia and other forms of cancer ruled out, the list of possible diseases is narrowing.

A low blood platelet count is a sign of a weakened immune system. In addition to cancer, the low count could be attributed to bleeding ulcers, colitis, liver disease, lupus or HIV. It is believed that ulcers and colitis have already been ruled out. Arafat has lost a considerable amount of body weight. Hospital d'Instruction des Armees de Percy, southwest of Paris, also has some of France's best HIV/AIDS doctors.

For several years there have been suggestions that Arafat was bisexual. Ion Pacepa, who was deputy chief of Romanian foreign intelligence under the Ceaucescu regime and who defected to the West in 1978, says in his memoirs that the Romania government bugged Arafat and had recordings of the Arab leader in orgies with his body guards. If the suggestions that Arafat has AIDS are true, it is doubtful it would be made public.

JNF Launches Long-Term Negev Initiative


The Jewish National Fund - the official "caretaker" organization of the land of Israel - has announced what it calls an "ambitious long-term initiative to increase the population of the Negev with Israel's New Age Pioneers."

The plan, entitled, "Blueprint Negev: It's Not a Mirage. It's Our Vision," details the development of the infrastructure for 25 new commuter communities, using the cities of Be'er Sheva, Eilat and Mitzpeh Ramon as hubs. The new towns will include new housing, reservoirs, community parks, and other amenities necessary to meet the needs of young families. The Negev Desert comprises 60% of the land of Israel; yet only 8% of the population resides there, according to JNF figures.

JNF President Ronald S. Lauder announce that two years of research by JNF and Israeli government agencies are the basis for the plan, which aims to bring 250,000 new residents to the least populated part of Israel in the next five years. "Our aim is to transform the Negev into a region where people choose to live and choose to work."

A railway system linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Be'er Sheva is planned, and light rail trains linking Be'er Sheva to the Negev cities of Yerucham, Dimona and Ofakim are also in the planning stages. JNF has already developed seven new communities, and families have moved into their new homes.

JNF and an organization called "Or" have jointly formed the NegeVision Development Authority, a cooperative of many organizations working to recruit and bring new people to the Negev. Planned for development are Park Timna - once the site of an extensive network of sophisticated copper mines and now a nature site including a lake; thousands of family-owned small businesses; the Be'er Sheva riverbed; and more."

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