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German Chancellor Merkel Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Israeli and Palestinian leaders Sunday in the latest international bid to revive the Middle East peace process. Germany and Israel enjoy warm ties, but Merkel kept the Palestinian Authority at arms length.

Merkel is trying to build on fresh diplomatic momentum that has raised hopes of getting the peace process back on track. Last week, Arab leaders revived a peace initiative, offering Israel full diplomatic ties with all Arab states in exchange for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders.

The chancellor holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, which is a key player in the Middle East peace process. Her first meeting was with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. He said that while Israel faces grave threats from its enemies, there is also a new opportunity for peace with its Arab neighbors.

Olmert said the strong friendship between Israel and Germany will enable the two countries to work together toward peace. Merkel said that Germany and the European Union are committed to Israel's security. She said Europe would make every effort to help Israel and the Palestinians get back to the negotiating table.

Merkel also traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who urged Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative and take constructive steps to move it forward.

But underscoring the complexities, Merkel refused to meet with Palestinian Cabinet ministers from the Islamic terrorist group Hamas. Even though Hamas formed a unity government with (current) moderates including Abbas last month, the group continues to reject international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel. She said that until Hamas meets those conditions it cannot be a partner in the peace process.

Olmert used his news conference Sunday evening with Merkel to extend an invitation to the king of Saudi Arabia, and to ask the king to invite him. "I would like to use the opportunity that I am here with the President of the European Union," Olmert said, "to invite all of the Arab leaders, including the Saudi king."

"I do not intend to tell them what to say, nor will I take dictations from them," he said. "I want to announce to the leaders of the Arab states that if the Saudi king initiates a meeting of the moderate states and invites me and the head of the Palestinian Authority, I would be glad to go there and voice our opinions."

In related news, Olmert said that Israel is not planning to attack Syria. "The rumors as if there is an American plan to attack Iran in coordination with Israel and that Israel will attack Syria and the Hizbullah in Lebanon at the same time is (sic) unfamiliar to us, untrue and unfounded."

Israel's military intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, said Sunday that Syria, Iran and the Hizbullah expect to be attacked in the summer and are building up their forces "defensively."

Yadlin said the two states and the proxy army do not intend to open hostilities themselves but are, rather, in a defensive mode. "They think there will be war in the summer," said Yadlin, "not (initiated) by Israel but, for instance, by the USA."

Yadlin explained that a situation like this is volatile because of the danger that one side might misinterpret actions taken by the other. Israel needs to prepare itself, he said, but also to be careful not to take steps which might be misunderstood by the other side. He mentioned the Six Day War and said that today, too, Israel "could find itself in a war that no one wants."

Hamas Recruits Children to Terror Squads via TV Programs


A new Hamas video encourages the participation of children in terrorism and has been broadcast on Hamas TV. The video focuses on Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and portrays young children as continuing the slain Islamist sheikh's legacy. Children are portrayed wearing uniforms, holding rifles and participating in military training.

This is the second Hamas TV video in less than a week promoting terrorist activities to children. The first was the video dramatization of the four-year old daughter of female suicide bomber Reem Riyashi, singing to her dead mother and vowing to follow in her footsteps(See video at

High Court Suit: Strip Three Arab Knesset Members of Citizenship


In a precedent-setting petition to the Supreme Court, the Israel Law Center maintains that three Arab Knesset members lost their Israeli citizenship - and thus their right to be Knesset Members - when they traveled to Syria, an enemy country, last September.

The three Arab MKs are Azmi Bishara, Wassel Taha and Jamal Zehalka, of the Balad Party. During their visit to Syria, they met with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and leading members of the ruling Baath Party.

Israel Law Center's suit quotes Clause 5 of Israel's Emergency Regulations regarding travel abroad (1948, 1954). The clause states, "An Israeli citizen or resident may not enter [Syria or other specified countries] without permission from the Interior Minister or the Prime Minister" - permission that was not received by the three MKs.

In addition, Clause 11 of the Citizenship Law of 1952 states, "An Israeli citizen who left Israel illegally to one of the [forbidden countries]... shall be viewed as having ceded his Israeli citizenship, and it shall be voided as of the day he left Israel."

Therefore, the ILC concludes, "Their Israeli citizenship was voided as of the day they left Israel, and since a Knesset Member must be an Israeli citizen, they must be dismissed as Knesset Members."

The ILC turned to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On two months ago, asking that the citizenship of the three MKs be revoked. It also turned to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik at the same time, demanding that she act to replace the three MKs in question with those who succeed them on the Balad Party list.

Though Bar-On did not reply at all, Itzik responded that the MKs are protected by their parliamentary immunity, which allows them to travel freely abroad except in time of war. The lawsuit argues at length, however, that parliamentary immunity does not apply to the loss of citizenship - and that even if it does apply in principle, a trip to Syria is certainly not an inherent part of an MK's parliamentary duties that would protect him from the penalties required by the law.

Leitner said, "The time has come to enforce the law against MKs who feel free to visit enemy countries whose goal it is to liquidate the State of Israel, and to meet with leaders who back the most murderous of attacks in Israel. The freedom to travel to these countries granted to these MKs will end now; an Arab MK who wants to join up with the enemy may no longer serve as a Knesset member."

First Army Salary: Negative Shekels


Before going off to serve in Israel's Defense Forces, often at risk of one's life and for the paltry salary of 600 NIS (less than $150) per month, military recruits often start off service with a personal deficit: A brief survey of some new recruits last month revealed that a large percentage of them bought supplementary gear for the army, from their own cash stores.

In many cases, recruits and their parents buy unnecessary equipment, or such that is already provided by the army. In fact, the IDF insists that new recruits require no personal gear in order to be fully equipped for service.

So why the shopping sprees? They are often due to uncertainty by parents and children about what the enlistment process entails or simply due to efforts by army supply stores to convince recruits that they need more stuff.

Dudu Yeffet, manager of the Ricochet military supply chain's branch in a central Israeli mall, said that purchases by new recruits average between 600 to 800 NIS (about $150 to $200) and can reach sums as high as 2,500 NIS (over $600).

The following is a list of the average supply list personally purchased for the military (and based on the assumption that the three pair of 'delicates' and the three cotton undershirts provided by the military will not last for the two or more weeks that soldiers usually spend in the field).

The list includes six pair of underwear – 150 NIS ($36); six pair of socks – 100 NIS ($24); six pair of undershirts – 150 NIS ($36); Locks – 30 NIS ($7); Shower shoes – 30 NIS ($7; Flashlight – 50 NIS ($12); Shoe polish - 20 NIS ($5); Anti-chafing cream – 40 NIS ($10); Insect repellent – 25 NIS ($6); Insoles – 50 NIS ($12); and toiletries – 80 NIS ($20)

The total already reaches 725 NIS ($180), and that's before even factoring in a backpack, wristwatch, laundry bag, gloves or wet-wipes. One can only hope that avoiding a rash, shin splints or intense body odor is worth the cost.

IDF Sells Chametz, Dogs to Non-Jew


As part of the Passover preparations, the Israel Defense Forces has sold all the military-owned dogs, along with the chametz (leavened food from one of the five primary grains) to Laviv Naser al-Din, a Druze from Daliyat al-Carmel.

Jews traditionally sell their chametz to a non-Jew, so that it will not be in their possession over the holiday while avoiding heavy losses. This year the IDF decided to sell the dogs as well, as the dog-food supplier informed them that he could not supply 'Kosher for Pesach' dog food. Therefore, the dogs had to be removed from Jewish ownership.

The sale ceremony was performed Sunday by Rabbi Avi Ronsky, IDF chief rabbi. Naser al-Din paid a down payment for the chametz and the dogs. At the end of the holiday the deal will be voided and both the chametz and the money will be returned to their owners.

As the IDF rabbinate had never encountered this problem, approval had to be gained from Defense Minister Amir Peretz, which caused a delay to the ceremony. In reality, the dogs will remain with the soldiers, as the foodstuffs remain in army warehouses, although they will officially belong to Naser al-Din over the holiday.

Secret of Pyramids Revealed?

By Reuters

A French architect said on Friday he had cracked a 4,500-year-old mystery surrounding Egypt's Great Pyramid, saying it was built from the inside out.

Previous theories have suggested Pharaoh Khufu's tomb, the last surviving example of the seven great wonders of antiquity, was built using either a vast frontal ramp or a ramp in a corkscrew shape around the exterior to haul up the stonework.

But flouting previous wisdom, Jean-Pierre Houdin said advanced 3D technology had shown the main ramp which was used to haul the massive stones to the apex was contained 10-15 meters beneath the outer skin, tracing a pyramid within a pyramid. "This is better than the other theories, because it is the only theory that works," Houdin told Reuters after unveiling his hypothesis in a lavish ceremony using 3D computer simulation.

Houdin began working full-time on the riddle eight years ago after a flash of intuition passed to him by his engineer father, and five years before actually visiting the site. He found that a frontal, mile-long ramp would have used up as much stone as the pyramid, while being too steep near the top. He believes an external ramp was used only to supply the base.

An external corkscrew ramp would have blocked the sight lines needed to build an accurate pyramid and been difficult to fix to the surface, while leaving little room to work. "What characterized the Egyptians was their sense of perfection and economy. We talk of durable development now, but it was the Egyptians who invented it. They didn't waste a single stone. They relied purely on intelligence," Houdin said.

Houdin also claimed to have shed light on a second enigma surrounding the purpose of a Grand Gallery inside the pyramid. The Frenchman believes its tall, narrow shape suggests it accommodated a giant counter-weight to help haul five 60-tonne granite beams to their position above the King's Chamber.

He thinks that no more than 4,000 people could have built the pyramid using these techniques rather than the 100,000 or so assigned by past historians to the task of burying the pharaoh.

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