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Arab Searched for Arafat Fortune at Meron


An Arab living near Tzefat (Safed) searched during the past month for $50 million rumored to have buried at Har Meron by representative of former PLO chairman Yasir Arafat. The Meron Hills also is the burial place of Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The unidentified Arab said he heard about the fortune from nearby Druze residents of a village next to Meron. He brought explosives and digging tools to the area a month ago, when he began work until police confiscated the explosives and equipment.

Anti-Expulsion Rally Shakes Tel Aviv

By VOA News, &

The huge rally in Tel Aviv against the expulsion plan ended Thursday evening, as more than 300,000 people found their way to thousands of buses that brought them to Rabin Square. It was one of the largest rallies ever in Israel. Leaders called on people to reach as close to Gaza as possible next week and to resist being provoked into violence against police.

Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer warned that the rally was "more dangerous than protests that preceded the assassination" of Yitzhak Rabin. He warned that blocking roads to and from Gush Katif next week would cause bloodshed in confrontations with police and soldiers.

"Monday, everyone is heading south - on foot, by car - by any way possible. We will block the roads into Gush Katif with our bodies," Yesha Council logistical director Tzviki Bar-Chai told the crowd. Video available at mms://

"Just like we came to Kfar Maimon, to Sderot and to Ofakim - all of us - every one of us - will be there on Monday, saying we will not move from here. Beatings from Yassamnikim (riot police), the horses of the police and the water cannons of the IDF will not stop us. We will be there!"

Earlier Thursday, orange ribbons lined Tel Aviv's bohemian Shenkin Street as anti-expulsion activists painted the town orange - the color of the anti-retreat movement. Groups of teenage activists could be heard marching down the main thoroughfares singing, "Everybody knows that Tel Aviv is orange" to the tune of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine. "A tent city was erected in the park opposite the Tel Aviv's main train station.

As evening fell, the giant Rabin Square, formerly known as Kings of Israel Square was filled as hundreds of thousands of Jews from Tel Aviv and all over Israel poured into the main plaza from all directions. Side streets were packed with protesters in every direction. Rabbi Yigal Kaminetsky, rabbi of Gush Katif, told those gathered, "Nothing is sealed, in a moment, with the help of Heaven, things can turn for the good - that is the story of the Jewish people throughout history.

But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is determined to implement the withdrawal despite months of protests. On Monday, the army will deliver evacuation orders to the settlers warning them that their presence in Gaza is illegal and they have 48 hours to move out. Beginning on Wednesday, those who refuse to leave will be removed by force. More than 9,000 Israelis will be evacuated from 21 settlements in Gaza, along with four more in the West Bank.

In an apparent attempt to give a boost to the embattled Israeli leader, President Bush spoke out in support of the Gaza pullout. "I believe the decision that Prime Minister Sharon has made and is going to follow through on will be good for Israel." Israel Television interviewed Bush at his ranch in Texas. "I think in the long run, two states living side by side in peace is the ultimate solution for Israel's security," he added. But opponents of the pullout believe just the opposite. They expect Gaza to become a terrorist entity committed to the annihilation of the state of Israel.

A separate Jewish state in Gaza? Anti-pullout leader Arieh Itzhaky and a group of residents of the settlement of Kfar Yam are planning to declare the establishment of the "Gaza Region Jewish Authority" on Sunday.

Residents of Kfar Yam, one of 21 Jewish communities in Gaza that the government plans to dismantle this month, are setting up an independent "Jewish Authority." Arieh Itzhaky said his group would ask the Israeli government for rifles for defense. "I premise the establishment of the new sovereign authority on international law." Elections for a parliament will be held in three weeks, he added.

Israelis and Palestinians Wonder What Will Happen After Gaza Withdrawals


In less than a week, Israel will begin one of the most controversial strategic moves in its history, withdrawing its military and settlers from the Gaza Strip. The Gaza withdrawal is not a part of the "Roadmap" peace process championed by the international community. But both the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to move forward with the Roadmap. Jeff Swicord takes at look at some of the obstacles both sides face in implementing the plan, and asks the question: What comes next?

As the Gaza withdrawal grows closer, a debate is raging within Israel over what comes next. At issue is what impact West Bank settlement growth and the route of the security barrier will have on a future peace process.

Daniel Levy is with the Geneva Initiative Israel, an organization working to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He says, "One of the things that has happened is that in parallel with the focus on the Gaza withdrawal, there have been things going on below the radar screen of much of the international and local Israeli attention in the West Bank, particularly around Jerusalem. The most prominent is in the so called Ma'ale Adumim E1 area."

The E1 area encompasses Ma' ale Adumim, the largest West Bank settlement. Israel had planned to build 3,500 new housing units here, in violation of the Roadmap peace process, but halted work after objections from the international community. Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, responded, "From our point of view, and Prime Minister Sharon has expressed this, in any sort of final status agreement we believe, that there should be contiguity between Jerusalem and between Ma' ale Adumim. That is something that we believe should happen in the long-term. "

The Palestinians disagree. They say any construction within, or outside existing settlement boundaries is a violation of the Roadmap. Khalil Tufakji is the Director of the Maps and Survey Department at Orient House, a non-government organization that advises the Palestinian Authority. "Everybody speaks about Roadmaps, but Israel makes more facts, more reality, on the ground." he says. "The wall which now is under construction, it means that Israel is drawing the map between the Palestinians and Israel, without negotiation with the Palestinians." The path of the security barrier now under construction reaches as far as 6 kilometers deep inside the West Bank, significantly cutting territory under Palestinian control.

The barrier is an imposing divider and a cause of much controversy "The route of the separation barrier, which is perhaps the key here, because it is some kind of statement of intent as to what happens in the future," says Levy. "The separation barrier routing doesn't limit itself to the built up area of Ma' ale Adumim. The separation barrier routing takes the entire area well beyond Ma' ale Adumim heading out towards the Jordanian border... and both North and South of Ma' ale Adumim."

Israel is planning to replace the old checkpoints with 20 new crossing points along the security barrier. Levy says this only adds to the notion that this is a permanent border. He argues that all this spells trouble for the Roadmap. "We have seen how difficult it is to undo the settlements in Gaza and the four settlements in the northern West Bank which are in Sharon's disengagement plan. The more facts on the ground that you create in the West Bank, the more difficult the viable two-state solution is. That's why the U.S. administration has consistently come out against this creation of unilateral facts on the ground."

Many in Israel, like those at the Geneva Initiative, are concerned that the Gaza withdrawal is about preventing progress in the West Bank and freezing the status quo indefinitely. Several Sharon aides have publicly commented that the preferred next step was to put the Roadmap "in formaldehyde," meaning, on hold for the foreseeable future. "If it is left up to Sharon, he will say, 'No movement until the Palestinians deliver a number of preconditions.' And judging by past experience Sharon will place the preconditions teasingly out of reach for the Palestinians. So I think Sharon's preferred option is not to have any forward movement," says Mr. Levy.

But Mark Regev strongly disagrees. "Israel has committed to moving forward, Israel has accepted the Roadmap as the path for moving forward," he says. "And I would tell the Palestinian people the following: My prime minister has said to you that we don't want to rule over the Palestinian people. We are ready for a Palestinian state living in peace and cooperation with the state of Israel."

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