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Explosion Near Beirut Shopping Mall

By Reuters

An explosion took place in eastern Beirut late on Sunday, and a security source said an explosive device had detonated near a shopping mall. A Reuters witness who heard the explosion said a plume of smoke could be seen rising from the area.

The blast came as Lebanese troops battled Islamist terrorists based in a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country on Sunday and 48 people were killed in Lebanon's bloodiest internal fighting since the 1975-90 civil war.

Israel Fires Rocket on Gaza, Says it Plans More Strikes

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

Officials said that the Israeli air force fired a missile at a house in Gaza City, killing eight people and wounding at least 12 others. Israel said it plans to take tougher military action against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Cabinet Sunday decided to intensify air strikes on Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, in response to rocket attacks. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would strike at the terrorist infrastructure and those responsible for firing rockets across the border. Olmert said the military leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad would be targeted.

The decision came after six days of air strikes on Gaza, in which Israel targeted militants in their vehicles and suspected rocket factories. However, ministers ruled out a ground offensive in Gaza, saying they wanted to avoid a major escalation. Terror rockets numbering 108 and 33 mortar shells have been fired at Sderot and the area surrounding Gaza in the past few days. More than 10 rockets have been fired at the western Negev since the government session ended.

The government has been under growing pressure from angry residents of the Israeli border town of Sderot, which has been hit by dozens of rockets since Wednesday. "This government has done nothing!" shouted one resident. "This country should be ashamed! They are caving in to terror."

The Cabinet's decision came as Hamas and the rival Palestinian Fatah faction agreed to end all hostilities, strengthening a ceasefire reached on Saturday. Gun battles on the streets of Gaza have left some 50 Palestinians dead over the past 10 days.

Palestinian Information Minister Moustafa Barghouti said the agreement is bittersweet. "I never felt so shameful in my life like when we had to use the word 'ceasefire' between Palestinians," said Moustafa Barghouti.

Olmert told his ministers that "the Hamas men are paying, and will continue to pay, a heavy personal price for these attacks on Sderot and the nearby communities. If the diplomatic steps we are taking do not lead to a calm we will have to take harsher steps," he warned. However, a majority of the ministers, including Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz, opposed a ground incursion.

The Hamas terror organization has been increasing the number and efficiency of attacks on Israel, while engaged in its militia war with rival PA terror faction Fatah. New reports suggest that Hamas' capabilities are improving, particularly with the influence and assistance of Al Qaeda.

A new report indicated that Al Qaeda has begun active efforts to strengthen the Hamas terror organization in the battle for control of the Palestinian Authority. As the Palestinian Authority continues to weaken, the Al Qaeda terrorist network has strengthened ties with Hamas, according to a report written by Army Reserve Lt. Col. Jonathan HaLevi for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Following the expulsion of Jewish residents from the Gaza area and the destruction of their communities, Al Qaeda already had begun to fill the vacuum in security, HaLevi wrote.

Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas last year said, "We have signs of the presence of Al Qaeda in Gaza and the West Bank." Further evidence of the al Qaeda presence was produced earlier this month when the terrorist group Army of Islam, identified with Al Qaeda, took responsibility for the March kidnapping of British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston, whose whereabouts and condition are unknown.

Rather than challenge Al Qaeda's bid to expand its presence in the Gaza Strip, Hamas prefers to collaborate with these new militant groups. The same group teamed up with two Hamas-sponsored terror groups to carry out last year's abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border attack which killed two other soldiers and wounded a third.

"Even external appearances show Al Qaeda's growing influence as members of its affiliate movements in the Gaza Strip will often wear the same black head covering that was a trademark of the late Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," noted HaLevi. "All the evidence indicates that rather than challenge Al Qaeda's bid to expand its presence in the Gaza Strip, Hamas prefers to collaborate with these new militant groups."

Intelligence reports indicate that Hamas terrorists this year acquired Russian-made 22 kilometer-range Grad missiles, more versatile and lethal than the primitive, short-range Kassams.

In addition, Hamas operatives have been bolstered by advance terror training programs, financial support and gifts of Katyusha rockets from the Iranian-backed Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon. Hizbullah used several different Iranian and Syrian-made missiles against Israel in last summer's Second Lebanon War; most were short and medium-range Katyushas.

According to one military source that requested anonymity, PA terrorists used Katyushas in three attacks within the past year, reaching the outskirts of Ashkelon each time. A number of strategic installations exist in the Mediterranean coastal city, making it an inviting target. Police said Friday they are preparing for the possibility that long-range rockets may be fired at Ashkelon.

Regardless of who received guns and from where, at the end, a Hamas official commented to a WorldNet Daily reporter, the weapons will eventually all be distributed among the other terrorist groups anyway, and all will ultimately be pointed at Israel.

While the two factions continue their renewed militia war, the Hamas organization simultaneously launched an intensive attack against the Jewish State on Tuesday, aiming at communities in the western Negev. Sderot, closest to the border, has taken the brunt of the rocket fire, although other communities have been attacked, including the large coastal city of Ashkelon.

The attacks have come less than a month after a senior member of Al Qaeda called on Hamas to show a little more energy in its war against Israel. In a video that appeared on Al Qaeda's website, Abu Yaha al Libi asked Hamas, "Where is the revenge? Where are the bombs? Where is the fire?"

The senior Al Qaeda terrorist urged Hamas to step up its attacks. "Your loyalty will be measured only through your commitment to the path of Jihad," chided al Libi.

Many Dead as Lebanese Army Battles Militants in Palestinian Camp

By Challiss McDonough (VOA-Cairo)

About 48 people have been reported killed in fierce gun battles between the Lebanese army and members of an Islamic extremist group in northern Lebanon. The clashes centered around a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Tripoli.

The Lebanese army battled for hours with militants from the shadowy group known as Fatah al-Islam. The clashes erupted around dawn, after security forces raided a building looking for suspects in a bank robbery.

The fighting spread to surrounding streets in the city of Tripoli and to the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. The sound of automatic gunfire and tank rounds could be heard echoing through the streets around the camp as the battle wore on.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora issued a statement accusing Fatah al-Islam of attacking the army in an effort to destabilize Lebanon.

Several cabinet ministers linked the violence in Tripoli to the proposed international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The issue has deadlocked Lebanese politics for the last six months. The U.N. Security Council has recently inched closer to establishing the court over the objections of Lebanese opposition parties.

Political scientist Fadia Kiwan, who heads the political science department at St. Joseph University in Beirut, said she believes the timing of the clashes is key to understanding why they occurred. "We think it is very significant," said Kiwan.

"The parties who are threatened by this court are trying to manipulate these groups in order to create problems in Lebanon." Kiwan said she believes the group is being manipulated by outside forces - although she did not say precisely which ones.

Lebanese authorities have charged several of the group's members with bombing two buses in a Christian area near Beirut in February. Fatah al-Islam denies involvement. The group is accused of having ties to al Qaeda and the Syrian intelligence service, charges it also denies.

As the gun battles in and near Tripoli continued, the Lebanese army sent in reinforcements that took up positions around the camp and near a building in Tripoli where militants were holed up. At one point, witnesses said Fatah al-Islam fighters took over two army checkpoints near the camp entrance. A Fatah al-Islam spokesman told Al Jazeera that the group was only defending itself.

By longstanding tradition, Lebanese security forces do not enter Palestinian refugee camps, some of which are controlled by armed groups. Fatah al-Islam is a fairly new splinter group that broke away last year from another faction known as Fatah Uprising, which broke away from the mainstream Fatah movement in the 1980s.

All of the major Palestinian factions have disavowed ties with the Fatah al-Islam group, saying it shares the al-Qaeda ideology that they reject.

Temple Mount Controversy Continues


Record numbers of Jews have ascended the Temple Mount since a large group of religious-Zionist rabbis issued a public call to visit Judaism's holiest site in accordance with Jewish legal strictures.

On Jerusalem Day, for the first time in recent history, multiple groups of 40 or more Jews were allowed to ascend the Temple Mount at once. In the past, groups were severely limited in size – and only one allowed on the mount at a time.

Two Jewish visitors were arrested Wednesday for belting out "Shma Yisrael" – the Jewish declaration of faith and God's Oneness of Deuteronomy 6:4. Unlike on previous occasions, the rest of the group was not penalized, and many returned the next day to visit as well.

The religious precautions required of one who wishes to ascend the Mount "in purity" include immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath), taking off one's shoes, and clarifying the precise areas forbidden for entry - or else going only with a guide who knows the area.

"There has been a marked increase in Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount since the large group of rabbis ascended," the Movement for the Preparation of the Temple said in a statement. "The public is encouraged to study the relevant laws and familiarize themselves with their holiest place."

However, many rabbis in the religious-Zionist camp continue to rule out visits to the sacred site. Former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, the nonagenarian [in his 90's] dean of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, told the massive crowds who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day at the yeshiva that entry to the Mount is not permitted at this time, because of the lack of certainty as to the exact location of the biblically-forbidden areas on the mount.

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner are also among those who forbid Jewish entry to the Temple Mount. It is felt that the extreme nature of the biblical prohibition against entering the site of the Temple outweighs both political/nationalist concerns and the confidence of those who claim they know the precise location of the forbidden areas.

Elizabeth Taylor Can Keep Van Gogh Allegedly Stolen by Nazis


Elizabeth Taylor will be allowed to keep a Van Gogh painting allegedly stolen from a Jewish woman by the Nazis after she fled Germany in 1939, a US appeals court ruled on Friday. Taylor bought the "View of the Asylum and Chapel at Saint-Remy" for $257,600 at a Sotheby's auction in London in 1963.

The painting, now estimated to be worth between $10-15 million, has been the subject of a legal wrangle in recent years, with descendants of its former owner claiming it rightfully belongs to them. However, a federal appeals court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that demanded Taylor hand over the painting.

But the heirs of Margarete Mauthner had argued the painting was wrongfully acquired by the Nazis around the time of World War II and that Taylor and her representatives should have been aware of its origins. "We are asserting that Ms Taylor was negligent and careless when she bought the painting," said Andrew Orkin, a Canadian lawyer who identified himself as Mauthner's great-grandson. "Our complaint charges that she ignored numerous conspicuous 'red flags' in 1963 that the painting had likely been confiscated from a victim of Nazi persecution."

Mauthner fled Berlin to South Africa in 1939 after having lost most of their property, including the painting, as a result of "Nazi economic and political coercion" and that the family was therefore entitled to reclaim it under the 1998 US Holocaust Victims Redress Act. However in its ruling, the court judged that the redress act did not establish a right to sue for the return of property that had been seized.

Taylor's representatives said Orkin and his family had failed to show that the painting was ever illegally seized from Mauthner. Taylor maintained that the catalogue from the auction at which she bought the piece stated that it had once belonged to Mauthner, but that it passed to two reputable galleries before it was sold to a German Jew, Alfred Wolf, who himself fled the Nazis in 1933.

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