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Skydiving Show Honors Abductees


Skydivers held a parachuting show Wednesday, as an act of identification with the three abducted Israeli soldiers, Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

As they dropped from the sky in free fall, the skydivers held a large banner with the three abducted men's pictures and the slogan "Don't let apathy kill them."

The event, featuring noted Israeli singer and actress, Sarit Vino-Elad (cousin to Israel News Faxx editor Don Canaan's son, Golan, was held at the Paradive skydiving club at Habonim Beach near Haifa, and was attended by the abductees' relatives, who said the holiday season made their longing for their loved ones even harder to bear.

House of Representatives Speaker Meets Syrian President

By VOA News &

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has assured her he is willing to hold peace talks with Israel.

Pelosi met Wednesday in Damascus with Assad, and said she delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Assad that Israel is ready for talks. Israeli officials clarified Wednesday that Israel is ready to hold peace talks if Syria stops supporting terrorism.

On Tuesday, President Bush criticized Pelosi for visiting Syria. Bush said Syria is sponsoring terrorism by allowing foreign fighters into Iraq. Pelosi has said it is important to hold a dialogue with Syria. The Democratic lawmaker from California is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria in years.

Earlier this week, a small group of lawmakers from Bush's Republican Party also met with Assad. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group said the United States should open a dialogue with Syria and Iran, but Bush has refused to do so.

The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Syria after the country was implicated in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria denies any link to the assassination.

And in related news, Arab League members are preparing teams to promote the Saudi Arabia 2002 initiative that promises to recognize Israel in return for the immigration of more than five million Arabs to Israel from foreign countries.

The 2002 plan also calls on Israel to surrender all the land, including the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount site that was restored to the Jewish state after the Six-Day War in 1967.

The Palestinian Authority delegate to the Arab League summit last week, Mohammed Sbeih, told the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency that that the teams will comprise delegates from Egypt, Jordan and the PA. They will "explain to the Israeli public and political parties that the Arab peace initiative, endorsed by 22 Arab countries, represents an historical opportunity which will guarantee complete normalization of relations with Israel in return for the latter's withdrawal from occupied Arab territories and a just remedy to the refugee question."

IDF Enters Gaza, Large-Scale Re-Entry on the Horizon


IDF troops entered Gaza Wednesday afternoon to pursue terrorists who had been planting a bomb near the security fence. The soldiers opened fire, killing one of the terrorists and injuring another. A third man was apprehended. All were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group. The terrorists detonated two bombs during the exchange, but failed to injure any Israeli security personnel.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz commented on the continued arming of Gaza terror groups while visiting an IDF base in the northern Gaza region Monday. "We won't allow the continued arming to turn the Gaza Strip into a second Lebanon," he said, but added that "nobody should bring about an escalation through his statements, though – which would bring about a crisis and a real war."

Al-Jazeera is reporting that Israel is poised to retake Gaza based on an interview with IDF Brig. Gen. (Res.) Tzvika Fogel, formerly a senior officer in the IDF's Southern Command. Fogel is quoted saying that the IDF has completed its preparations for a Gaza operation and will "reoccupy" Gaza – except Gaza City – for up to six months.

Fogel said the operation could begin as early as April 15: "It will not be before April 15 because that's the end of Passover, and to be on the safe side it will not be after June 15, because we want it to be finished before the winter."

"Hamas is working towards the point that they will be like Hizbullah," Fogel said. "At that point they will start the war and it will not be good for Israel. We can't let them start the war. We will lose a lot of respect… The last thing the West wants is for Hamas to have its own country. It will be an Al Qaeda zone. So Israel, the Arab countries and the free world all want us to begin a war and win it."

The IDF Spokesman declined to comment on Fogel's statements beyond stressing that Fogel is an officer in the reserves and not party to the decision-making process.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was recently told in a briefing that Syria believes Israel will launch in attack on Syria and Lebanon in the event of a U.S. offensive against Iran's nuclear project. Olmert reportedly is seeking to convince the Syrians that such a plan does not exist due to his fear that Syria will launch a pre-emptive attack on the Golan Heights.

"I can tell you that there is no such plan that we know about, and in any case, there is no reason for the Syrians to prepare for such an eventuality," Olmert told Ha'aretz in a pre-holiday interview. "There is always concern that when one side prepares for war, and the other side is preparing to counter the other side's preparations, then the first side interprets the preparations of the other side as if it is the manifestation of its fears, and the situation goes into a spin, and control is lost."

76% of Public Would Follow Moses to Land of Israel


Seventy-six percent of the Israeli public would want Moses (pronounced 'Mosheh' in Hebrew) to lead them to the Land of Israel and nowhere else if he were their leader today, according to a poll by the Knesset Channel and 'Dahaf.'

Nine percent would rather be led to Europe, 5 percent chose America, 3 percent opted for Africa, 2 percent for Australia and 1 percent for the Far East. When asked if they preferred to live in Israel or another country, if given a choice, 83 percent said they preferred Israel.

Murder, Elephant Style, in Ramat Gan Safari

By &

Yossi, the leader of the African elephant herd in Ramat Gan's Safari Park, attacked and killed one of the oldest elephants in the park, Atari, the herd's female leader, as park visitors looked on aghast. There was no known reason for the attack.

Yossi, 37, is 3.70 meters (about 12 feet) tall and weighs seven tons. On Monday, as Israelis were preparing for the Pesach Seder, he began following, then forcefully attacking, Atari, who was 46 years old and weighed five tons. After receiving several body blows from Yossi's head, Atari collapsed and died. The entire incident was videotaped by safari visitors.

Yossi is now being held in seclusion, and will only be brought in contact with the other elephants during mating season.

Around 2 p.m., toward closing time, Yossi attacked Atari, brutally slamming her against the yard's wall. The blow caused her to fall to the ground, and left her groaning for a few moments before dying. "She didn't stand a chance against him," said one elephant keeper, "Yossi is a giant, very powerful elephant. Atari weighed two tons less than him."

Up until now, 7-ton Yossi, who is also the world's largest elephant living in captivity, was the pride of the safari. Being the first elephant born in Ramat Gan after its opening; Yossi was known by all the workers to be calm and easy going.

Indeed, the incident came as a shock to the safari crew, since in all of his years as the herd's leader he never displayed any tendency to violence. The only possible explanation for this sudden display of aggression, said the safari staff, was that Yossi felt threatened by Atari, as she was the female herd's leader.

Atari was laid to rest at the safari's animal cemetery on Wednesday.

Fight Against Time to Preserve Auschwitz

By Reuters

Auschwitz is disintegrating. Over 60 years of winter snow, summer drought and millions of visitors have taken a heavy toll on the former Nazi death camp.

Just as survivors visiting the camp dwindle each year, so time is bearing down on the prison buildings, the rusting barbed-wire fencing and remnants of the gas chambers left behind when the Germans fled in January 1945.

Evidence of the victims -- hair, spectacles, children's toys and other belongings -- is also falling to pieces, eaten away by insects and mildew, its disappearance giving slow support to those who try to deny the Holocaust ever happened.

Unless conservation is stepped up there may soon be little left of the biggest graveyard in Europe, where up to 1.5 million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were slaughtered.

Now new management at the camp, covering 470 acres on two sites near Oswiecim in southern Poland, is accelerating work and hiring more staff to slow the deterioration and save the site as a lesson for future generations.

"If there is one place in the world that should be kept as a reminder of the consequences of racism and intolerance, it is this one," said Piotr Cywinski, who took over as director of Auschwitz in September. "But it gets more difficult every year." One of the many problems facing Cywinski and his 260 staff at the site, now a museum, is that Auschwitz was not built to last. The concentration camp known as Auschwitz was actually two camps, and both are suffering serious problems.

Auschwitz I, a stone and brick-built Polish military base used by the Nazis to house Polish political prisoners, was hastily enlarged with forced labor using the cheapest possible materials after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Auschwitz II Birkenau, two miles away, was a specially built killing factory thrown up in 1943 for the mass murder of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other minorities.

Linked directly to Europe's railway network by a special siding to speed up the murders, the Nazis used it to expedite their plans for a "Final Solution" to "the Jewish problem."

Parts of the Birkenau site are built from the remains of demolished Polish villages and stable blocks and these have survived. But many other buildings have already disappeared. Most wooden huts were removed after the war for use as temporary shelters. And the strongest of the buildings, the concrete gas chambers and crematoriums, were blown up by the guards before their retreat. These ruins have collapsed, undermined by rising ground water, flooding and erosion.

The area around the gas chambers is cordoned off with tape but still accessible to the public, some of whom clamber over the rubble. Some visitors even remove relics and artifacts.

The ash pits where the remains of many victims were dumped lie open to the elements and the ground trampled by visitors around them is studded with what look like tiny white stones. "Not stones -- bones," explains Jarek Mensfelt, a linguist and senior guide at the museum. "Tiny fragments of human bones. It is terrible that tourists can tread on human remains."

Various grandiose ideas -- including one for a giant dome -- have been rejected on grounds of cost and because any major construction would destroy some of the area and alter it. Smaller-scale enclosures to protect the buildings would be possible, but even these would be expensive and would have to be agreed by all the groups that protect the site.

"Tens of millions of dollars, more, would be needed to do all the work," said Cywinski. But money is not the main problem: the Polish government has provided large sums and there are a number of international donors. Conservationists are like doctors: we can extend life, but not for eternity.

Faded and frail, two metric tons of hair shorn from victims is piled up in one cell block: once blonde plaits, black pony-tails and auburn curls, it is gradually decaying and now looks like gray wire wool.

The museum has had more luck with its 80,000 shoes, mostly odd. Chief conservationist Rafal Pioro and his staff of 38 invited school children to help clean and polish some of them. But there are so many, most still have to be stored in a warehouse without air-conditioning. Slowly, most are falling apart. "The work is endless and painstaking and can be heart-rending. When we were working on the children's shoes, some of us were crying all the time."

Workers at Auschwitz are struggling to slow the aging of the camp and keep it as a lesson on the evils of anti-Semitism. They aim, in the words of a plaque near the gas chambers, to keep Auschwitz as "a cry of despair and a warning to humanity".

Israel Gutman, a former Auschwitz prisoner and adviser to the Yad Vashem Holocaust institute in Israel, is determined the camp will be conserved as long as possible, whatever the cost. "There are still people who claim the Holocaust never took place," he said. "Auschwitz must be preserved for as long as possible because it gives those people a chance to go there, to see the real gas chambers."

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