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Train Accident in Israel Kills Five


Five people were killed and as many as 100 were injured when a commuter train hit a truck in central Israel. Most of the injuries in Monday's accident were not life-threatening, Israel's Army Radio reported. Several people were trapped in the wreckage. The train derailed near the coastal city of Netanya when it hit a truck that had apparently stalled crossing the tracks. The train's locomotive and several train cars were overturned in the collision.

Clashes Escalate Between Palestinian Factions

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem)

Violence escalated across the Palestinian territories late Monday as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a "state of alert" and ordered security forces to restore order.

In a dramatic escalation of violence that has been simmering for several days, hundreds of gunmen loyal to Abbas' Fatah Party set fire to the West Bank office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Ramallah. The office is unoccupied because Israeli travel restrictions prevent Hamas leaders from traveling from Gaza to the West Bank. A short while later gunmen loyal to Fatah fired on the Palestinian Parliament building in Ramallah, setting it on fire.

The violence in the West Bank followed gun battles in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah, where at least one Hamas terrorist was killed and more than a dozen others wounded.

Tensions have risen dramatically since Saturday when Abbas ordered a referendum to be held on July 26th, when Palestinians would be asked to approve a measure that calls for a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel. The measure, if approved, would in effect call on Hamas to recognize Israel -- something Hamas has refused to do.

Ali Jarbarwi a professor of political science at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah said the quarrel between Hamas and Fatah over the referendum could escalate. "The coming 40 days until we have the referendum is going to be dangerous, difficult and enflamed basically. If they do not reach and agreement on stopping this referendum, and reach an agreement between the president and the Hamas government, I think we are going to see an escalation internally, especially in Gaza, and also an escalation between Palestinians and Israelis. That would enflame the whole situation."

Israel Says It Will Exercise Restraint in Gaza

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem) &

Israel's Defense Minister said he would wait to see if Palestinian terrorists stop rocket attacks against targets in southern Israel before ordering further military action against targets in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians have continued to fire homemade rockets known as Kassams at targets in southern Israel. Sderot, the hometown of Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is a favored target.

But Peretz, who also heads Israel's center-left Labor Party, said Israel would exercise restraint for the time being. He said Israel has the plans, means and options to use against terrorists if the rocket attacks do not stop.

Israel's army commanders have reportedly asked for permission to carry out a large scale air offensive against targets in the Gaza Strip to retaliate for the attacks.

The chairman of the Israeli Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense committee said Israel could target leading Hamas government ministers for assassination if Hamas renews suicide bombings inside the Jewish state.

Hamas terrorists are behind most of the rocket attacks of recent days, calling off a 16-month truce last week after eight Palestinians were killed on a beach in Gaza during an Israeli military bombardment of a nearby area. Israel has begun an investigation into the incident.

Hamas parliamentarians met to discuss challenging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' plan to hold a referendum in late July on whether to recognize Israel, something Hamas rejects.

Political science professor Ali Jarbarwi, of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said rising tensions in the Palestinian territories benefit Hamas. "I think that they [Hamas] are trying to use the [Israeli] retaliation and the resistance against Israel as a tool in their internal quarrels," he noted. "So if they start shooting rockets and Israel retaliates, that will inflame the situation internally and I think that would derail the referendum."

Meanwhile, Israel's Lands Administration Authority issued an advertisement for bids on 54 plots of land to be used for single-family houses near a large West Bank settlement. The bid offer was the first to be issued since Prime Minister Olmert assumed office last month.

Under the internationally-backed Roadmap Peace Plan Israel is to freeze settlement construction and Palestinians are to stop violence against Israelis, as part of an eventual comprehensive peace settlement for the region.

In a related story, Olmert defended his daughter Dana's right to speech, regardless of her opinions, Sunday afternoon. Speaking just before he boarded a plane for Europe, the Prime Minister said he was watching soccer and did not see his daughter Saturday night, after a left-wing demonstration.

Dana Olmert, a university professor and left wing activist, was one of about 200 protestors across from the home of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, whom they branded a murderer in the wake of the deaths of eight Arabs in an explosion on a Gaza beach on Friday.

Begin Allegedly Involved in Bid to Kill then German Chancellor

By Ha'aretz

Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin played a central role in a failed attempt to assassinate then-West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, with the objective of sabotaging the reparations agreement in the works with Israel, according to the journal of Eliezer Sudit, one of the men who carried out the attempted hit.

Sudit's journal, which was published in a limited number of copies only, came into the possession of the Israel correspondent for the German daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Excerpts from the diary passed on to Ha'aretz reveal that Begin knew of the plans to assassinate Adenauer, and even initiated meetings to promote the operation. Among other things, Sudit writes that he heard Begin had offered to sell his gold watch to pay for the hit after the operation ran into financial difficulties.

Begin's personal secretary, Yehiel Kadishai, and Herzl Makov, the director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, told Ha'aretz Monday night that they knew nothing of Begin's involvement in the affair.

On March 27, 1952, a German sapper was killed by an explosive device that had been hidden in an item of mail addressed to Adenauer. At the same time, two letter bombs were sent to the meeting place of the Israeli and German delegations by a group calling themselves the Jewish Partisans Organization.

A few weeks later, five Israelis were arrested in France on suspicion of involvement in the assassination attempt. One of the men arrested was Sudit, a former member of the Irgun, a pre-state underground led by Begin. Sudit allegedly prepared the explosive device and hid it in the package sent to Adenauer.

Sudit decided to publicize the affair some 40 years later, in his journal, Be'shlihut Ha'matzpun (On a Mission of Conscience). According to Sudit, he met secretly with Begin and suggested "an operation that would shake the world and prove that not all Israelis are prepared to accept money as atonement for blood."

Sudit writes that Begin was very unhappy with the reparations agreement in the works, noting that the former prime minister "was ready for any reaction that would come as long as the reparations agreement was avoided."

Sudit says that Begin subsequently introduced him to then-Herut Knesset members Yohanan Bader and Haim Landau, and also Abba Shertzer, who headed the Irgun's intelligence service. It was Shertzer who told Sudit of Begin's readiness to sell his gold watch to finance the trip to France.

According to the journal, Begin and Sudit met once more before the latter left to carry out his mission.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine announced Monday that it would be publishing extracts from the journal in the near future. The newspaper's Israel correspondent, Joerg Bremer, told Ha'aretz that he had tried to interview Sudit a number of times, but had been turned down with the excuse that the man was not willing to speak to Germans.

Live Funerals on the Web


Chevra Kadisha, which provides mortuary and cemetery services, has launched a new and innovative service on its website that will enable mourners to watch funeral processions and obituaries in the convenience of their homes.

"The service will be available staring this week," head of the Chevra Kadisha Tel Aviv branch said. "We plan to charge only a minimal fee that will cover expenses for live broadcast of funerals."

Chevra Kadisha has invested about NIS 500,000 (roughly $111,000) in setting up an internet website. The site contains information on burial locations, and dedicates a special webpage to deceased Tel Aviv celebrities.

Other services offered on the site: A public transportation map to cemeteries in the Gush Dan area; online information about funerals; a list of people who recently passed away; a calculator to help work out grieving periods; and an option to build a personalized page for a loved one that died.

Shrinking Dead Sea Faces Fight to Survive

By Reuters

These days, a cart takes visitors from Israel's Ein Gedi resort to the edge of the Dead Sea. Twenty years ago, tourists stepped right onto the shore. The Dead Sea, the lowest point on the earth's surface, is shrinking as its salty waters rapidly dry up.

With no clear solution to the problem, environmentalists and tourist businesses are worried. "Every time I come here the beach is further and further away. One day there will only be a puddle left," says Gidon Bromberg, of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, Middle East.

Too salty to sustain life, the Dead Sea is a draw for tourists who come to float in its greasy-feeling buoyant brine. Devotees also believe its waters and the mud at the margins are good for the skin.

The Dead Sea has been shrinking for decades as the inflow dwindles from its main source, the Jordan River. Israel, Jordan and Syria rely on the river and its tributaries to meet the needs of increasing populations and agriculture in the arid region, and diversions have slowed the biblical river to a muddy trickle. Mineral extraction industries have also played a part by helping to accelerate evaporation.

The level of the Dead Sea has fallen more than 66 feet during the past 100 years and is now losing more than one yard each year. As the water level has fallen, it has caused thousands of sinkholes to open up on land. The Ein Gedi resort closed some campsites after a 10 foot hole opened up under someone's feet. Some holes are even deeper. "The ground is falling out from underneath us, literally," said Ein Gedi resident Gedi Hampe.

The Dead Sea is not expected to disappear entirely because it is fed by underground water sources and winter rainfall. As it shrinks, it also gets more salty, which in turn makes it harder for the remaining water to evaporate.

Scientists believe that if nothing is done, the water level will drop by as much as 328 feet more -- almost a third of its current depth.

With that in mind, a World Bank-backed feasibility study is to be carried out on a plan to build a 125 mile canal to replenish the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea to the south.

The idea is that the water would be pumped to a height of 720 feet in the border area between Israel and Jordan and then flow down to the Dead Sea, some 1,378 feet below sea level, generating electricity on the way. But the "Two Seas Canal" plan would cost an estimated $5 billion and the economics of the project are in question.

Scientists also wonder whether it would really be beneficial for the environment. The Dead Sea's unique make-up would be changed forever by introducing sea water into a body that has only ever been fed by fresh water. While sea water contains mostly sodium salts, the Dead Sea has much more magnesium and potassium.

"The cost of the damage that would be caused to the environment may be greater than any possible benefits," said local geologist Eli Raz. "The best plan for the Dead Sea is to let the Jordan River flow again, this is its natural state." But the chances of that happening are next to nothing given the reliance of the region's countries on the Jordan's water.

Environmentalists are pushing for the Dead Sea to be declared a World Heritage Site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, hoping this will force surrounding countries to come up with a plan. "Finally, people have begun to realize the urgency of the situation. It is so dramatic that it can no longer be ignored," said resident Hampe.

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