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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Plan Summit

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would hold his first summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days to discuss reviving peace talks. The peace process broke down after the Islamic terrorist group Hamas won Palestinian elections in January.

But in the wake of the war in Lebanon Israel wants to mend fences with the Arab world, and it hopes to start with its closest neighbor - the Palestinians.

Israel will not talk to Hamas because it seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. But Abbas, a former associate of the late terrorist PLO chairman, Yasir Arafat, is from the Fatah party, and Israel believes he can be a peace partner.

But Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says progress depends on whether Abbas can fulfill his commitment under the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan and restrain groups like Hamas.

"We want to see movement; stagnation is not good for us. We'd like to be able to more forward in accordance with the road map for peace," he said. "And the minute the Palestinians can pick up the ball and say they are partners in peace, we're willing to go with them."

Abbas said he is ready to negotiate a final peace deal with Israel. But Hamas believes the only way to achieve Palestinian statehood is through jihad or holy war. Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef said negotiations with Israel have been a waste of time. "See, I don't think it's a big step from Mr. Olmert toward the Palestinian issue just to come back to talk about [the] roadmap."

Abbas is trying to form a more moderate national unity government with Hamas in a bid to end crippling international sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. The proposed platform of the new government would support the peace process, but talks broke down over the refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel. So while there may be a summit, expectations are low on both sides for a breakthrough.

U.S.: Hizbullah Still Strong after War with Israel

By Margaret Besheer (VOA-Washington)

U.S. counterterrorism officials say Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorists remain a threat to the survival of Lebanon's government, Israel's security, and regional stability following its month-long war with Israel. The officials told Congress Thursday that Hizbullah has an increasing global reach and is capable of harming U.S. and other western interests around the world.

The 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel was triggered when Hizbullah fighters crossed into Israel, kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and killing eight others.

Israel responded with a military offensive intended to destroy Hizbullah's rockets, weaken its fighters and diminish its threat to Israel's security. But just last week, Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, told a rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters in Beirut, that his organization was as strong as ever and still had an arsenal of 20,000 rockets capable of striking Israel.

Frank Urbancic is a counterterrorism official at the U.S. State Department. He said Hizbullah is a capable terrorist organization with a growing reach. "We could think of it perhaps as almost an octopus, with its head in southern Lebanon and tentacles moving around the world."

In the Middle East, Urbancic said Hizbullah is interested in expanding its links to other terrorist organizations and has so far succeeded in the Palestinian territories. "Hizbullah has supported terrorist activities in the Palestinian territories since at least 2000, by providing financial, training and logistical support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist groups."

Hizbullah's growing reach, the officials said, is due in large part to the support it receives from its biggest backers - Iran and Syria - which provide Hizbullah with money, arms and training.

Counterterrorism officials are also concerned that Hizbullah is looking to expand into Central and South America, where the group's supporters and sympathizers are involved in drugs and arms trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Hizbullah was founded in 1982 as a response to Israel's invasion and occupation of Lebanon. Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Hizbullah was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist group.

The officials testified that they do not think Hizbullah is planning any terrorist operations in the United States right now, but they warn that the group operates in the United States to raise money to support its terrorist activities.

The officials warn that Hizbullah remains a highly organized and well-trained organization with funding from many sources. They say it is capable of acting against U.S. interests on several fronts and on several continents. The officials said close cooperation with U.S. allies is the most effective way to counter the Hizbullah threat.

Iran Seen Borrowing Nuclear Strategy from Israel

By Reuters

In developing its nuclear program Iran is using strategies that allowed its enemy Israel to assemble the Middle East's only atomic arsenal without admitting it had one, according to a leading expert on the Israeli program.

"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, there are elements of resemblance between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s," Avner Cohen, author of a landmark study entitled "Israel and the Bomb," in a telephone interview.

"This is a great irony of history but Iranian policymakers and nuclear technocrats may be strategically mimicking the Israeli model," said Cohen, senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies.

As Cohen sees it, the elements the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs have in common are secrecy, concealment, ambiguity, double talk and denial.

Iran's probable strategy, he says, is to create the perception of having a secret weapons program, or being close to it, without actually testing a bomb or declaring its possession or impending possession.

That echoes the Israeli program, which began in the late 1950s at the Dimona nuclear complex in the Negev Desert. Since then, Israel has declined to confirm or deny it has nuclear weapons, saying only it would not be the first to "introduce" them into the Middle East.

Over the decades, Israel's attitude has been "let the world guess" or as former Prime Minister Shimon Peres called it, "deterrence by uncertainty."

While there are parallels between Iran now and Israel then, the political context is vastly different. Beginning with Richard Nixon, a succession of U.S. presidents looked the other way as Israel built up its arsenal, historians said. Published estimates of the number of Israel nuclear devices range from 75 to 200.

In contrast, the administration of George W. Bush has said it would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran; a country the president has termed part of an "axis of evil."

Oil Under Israel? Chances are Good!


The nation of Israel's energy dependence on its unfriendly neighbors and the United States could be vastly reduced if a project being developed by Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. reaches its full potential, according to officials announcing an Initial Public Offering to raise funds for that work.

Karen Soltero, a spokeswoman for the company, said this week's IPO is intended to raise the support necessary to more fully explore a region in Israel where there have been very promising early signs of the presence of oil and gas.

Israel is an importing nation now, and "by and large the assumption across the board has been that there isn't oil in Israel," she told WND. However, the company's initial tests certainly have given positive indications, and that could very well affect Israel's "independence and power in the region," she said. Having its own energy source would provide relief for the U.S., which provides some supplies to Israel, too.

"We believe we are at the tip of the iceberg," she said, because the area is largely unexplored. "We have seen promising evidence in what we've done so far," she said.

The IPO announcement was made by John Brown, chairman of Zion. He said the plans are to offer a minimum of 350,000 shares, up to a maximum of two million, of common stock at $7 per share. The offering is being placed through Network 1 Financial Securities Inc., of Red Bank, N.J., and other selected NASD broker-dealers, the company said.

"Zion has been conditionally approved for listing of its common stock on the American Stock Exchange subject to timely completion of the minimum offering of $2,450,000," the announcement said. The ticker symbol, on listing, will be ZN. More details about the specifics of the offering are at the company's website.

CEO Gene Saltero said Israel's economy stabilized quickly after the cease-fire with Hizbullah, and his company has petroleum rights in the north central part of Israel, an area that has been vastly under-explored.

Israel has had some production since the 1950s and 1960s, but nothing significant. The biggest developments lately have been in offshore drilling, he said.

The company, a U.S. and Israel-based Delaware corporation, hunts for oil and gas on Israel's Ma'anit-Joseph License and Asher Permit areas, which cover about 219,000 acres between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Those areas, in biblical times, "were in the territories of the tribes of Manasseh and Asher," the company.

During 2005 Zion drilled an exploratory well to 15,842 feet with "encouraging, but inconclusive, results." The company said over a 2,100-feet interval starting at about 12,500 feet, it found what appears to be a discovery of both oil and gas in a number of different zones.

The proceeds from the IPO will be used mainly to complete work on that well, and if funds are available, to drill an appraisal well nearby. "If sufficient funding is available, Zion plans to drill this well to targets even deeper than the Triassic Age targets drilled by the Ma'anit #1," the company said.

Should the effort be successful, the company has announced plans to donate six percent of its gross revenues to two charitable trusts to be established by Zion in Israel and the U.S., the company said.

Additional information about the IPO also is available at the Securities and Exchange Commission website. The approval from the SEC came on Tuesday and sales were launched Wednesday, officials said. The IPO is set up to launch with a minimum order of 100 shares, officials said.

If the minimum sales figure isn't reached by Dec. 26, investors will receive refunds on their investments.

The company said it tried to raise a minimum of $6.5 million in 2004, but was unable to do that. However, private investors have raised more than that for the company since.

Solved: The Mystery of Flesh-Eating Bacteria

By Israel News Faxx Services

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar in Israel has discovered one reason why so-called "flesh-eating" bacteria are so hard to stop.

Emanuel Hanski, a microbiologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and colleagues found that the success of Group A Streptococcus is due in part to a protein that blocks the immune system's distress calls. The findings, published in the October 4, 2006, issue of the EMBO Journal, could lead to new strategies for treating necrotizing fasciitis and halting its rapid destruction of tissue. The paper was published in advance online.

The bacterium, group A Streptococcus, wreaks destruction on muscle and skin tissue in the form of necrotizing fasciitis, which kills roughly 30 percent of its victims and leaves the rest disfigured. Antibiotics and surgical interventions, the known treatments, often fail. Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious but rare infection of the skin and the tissues beneath it.

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