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New York May Force Firms to Insure Travelers to Israel


New York State is considering legislation that would force companies to insure travelers to Israel. Insurance companies for several years have restricted coverage because of fears of terrorist attacks although most Israeli cities are just as safe as American communities.

Sen. Charles Schumer told the New York Post, "It is just unfair for people to be denied life insurance because they might travel to Israel." Eight other states are considering similar legislation.

Is the Israeli Home Front Prepared for War?


One year after the Lebanese Hizbullah militia fired more than 3,000 rockets into northern Israeli population centers, the Jewish state's home front – especially Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – are largely unprepared for the event of war, say officials.

The concern comes amid threats from Hizbullah that it has replenished its rocket arsenal, and statements from officials in Syria that the country has thousands of rockets and missiles capable of hitting the entire Jewish state.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office recently released statistics stating about $1 billion was needed for construction of new civilian bomb shelters and renovation of older ones. But officials admitted even if the money is allotted, the country will not have enough shelters for about two years.

Israel has been focused on rebuilding shelters in the north that were battered during confrontations with Hizbullah one year ago. The Israeli north is home to about one-third of the country's population. Most shelters there are expected to be renovated by the end of August, although there have been media reports of rampant looting of some of the shelters.

In central Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there are only enough existing shelters for 70 to 80 percent of the area's residents. And of the existing shelters, officials say about two-thirds may be usable. Israeli security officials state the population is ill-prepared for the event of a non-conventional war.

The U.S. has accused Syria of producing significant quantities of chemical and biological weapons. According to statistics, only half of Israelis possess gas masks, and of those who do, many gas mask kits are thought to be out of date. Olmert's office has allocated only about $24,000 to the Israeli Home Front Command for the acquisition of gas warfare protection kits.

Some security officials complained the government hasn't done enough to educate citizens on public safety in the event of the outbreak of war. A WND intern this week surveyed 212 Tel Aviv residents at the city's largest shopping mall; of those, about half didn't know the location of the closest bomb shelter to their home.

Still, the Israeli government has installed siren systems in most of the country to warn of incoming missiles. By the end of August, the entire country should be covered by the siren systems, many of which automatically detect incoming missiles.

The information follows a WND interview in which a top official from Syrian President Bashar Assad's Baath party warned his country is preparing for possible war.

The official said if Israel doesn't vacate the strategic Golan Heights by August or September, Syrian groups might launch guerilla attacks against Jewish communities there that could lead to a larger confrontation with Israel.

"More and more of our units have undergone intensive trainings starting at 6 a.m. and finishing late into the evening. If the need arises, we are ready for a war," said the official. The Baath official warned that in the opening salvo of any conflict, Syria has the capabilities of firing "hundreds" of missiles at Tel Aviv.

Israeli security officials say Syria boosted its military near the Syrian side of the Golan Heights with strengthened forces after carrying out increased training the past few months. The security officials noted the movement of Syrian Scud missiles near the border with Israel and said Syria recently increased production of rockets and acquired missiles capable of hitting central Israeli population centers.

The Syrian army has improved its fortifications, according to the Israeli security officials, and has received modern, Russian-made anti-tank missiles similar to the missiles that devastated Israeli tanks during the last Lebanon war, causing the highest number of Israeli troop casualties during the 34-days of military confrontations. Syria also received from Russia advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

The security officials said any conflict with Syria could degenerate into a larger war involving Hizbullah along Israel's northern border and Palestinian terror groups launching attacks from Gaza in the south and the West Bank toward the center of Israel. The officials noted Syria stepped up the pace of weapons, including rockets, being shipped from the Syrian border to the Lebanese Hizbullah militia.

The security officials said the greatest threats Syria poses to the Jewish state are the country's missiles and rockets. They noted Syria recently test-fired two Scud-D surface-to-surface missiles, which have a range of about 250 miles, covering most Israeli territory. The officials said the Syrian missile test was coordinated with Iran and is believed to have been successful. It is not known what type of warhead the missiles had.

In addition to longer-range Scuds, Syria is in possession of shorter-range missiles such as 220 millimeter and 305 millimeter rockets, some of which have been passed on to Hizbullah.

Israel also has information Syria recently acquired and deployed Chinese-made C-802 missiles, which were successfully used against the Israeli navy during Israel's war against Hizbullah one year ago. The missiles were passed to Syria by Iran, Israeli security officials told WND.

Israeli security officials said Syria is indeed preparing for a summer war. But they said there was an argument within the Israeli intelligence community whether the military buildup is for an attack or is meant by Syria to pressure Israel into vacating the Golan Heights. Some officials said Syria estimates the U.S. or Israel will attack Iran, and Syria will be drawn into a larger military confrontation by opening up a front against northern Israel. Also, the officials said, Syria may believe Israel will attack first and its preparations are defensive in nature.

Mossad Helped Free Bulgarian Nurses in Libya

By Israel Faxx News Services

The Mossad helped free the medical team sentenced to death in Libya, Bulgaria's intelligence chief said Monday.

Gen. Kirtcho Kirov told the 24-Tchassa daily that Israel's intelligence agency was one of 20 countries' security services that were active in trying to release a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses convicted in Libya for infecting children with AIDS. The six were allowed to return to their countries last week.

Kirov said the fate of the medics was nothing more than "a grain of sand in the eye of an enormous hurricane bringing together major interests" in Libya, including arms sales and oil concessions, according to the AFP news agency.

Besides the Mossad and Western intelligence agencies, some Arab countries, including Egypt, Algeria and Morocco, provided helpful information, Kirov said.

Arabs Press Rice, Gates on Palestinian Issue

By David Gollust (VOA-Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt)

Arab diplomats meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Egypt pressed the Bush administration for action to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Bush has proposed an international meeting on the Middle East conflict sometime this autumn. Administration officials have been vague about the make-up and precise purpose of the meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to be convened later this year by Rice.

But the Arab ministers meeting with Rice and Gates say they want the conference to yield tangible and early progress toward a two-state solution of the Middle East conflict, despite the split in Palestinian ranks that has left the terrorist Islamic Hamas movement in control of the Gaza Strip.

The secretary of state and defense secretary, on an unusual joint mission, met with senior officials of Egypt, Jordan, and the six-member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council for talks they hope will generate more Sunni Arab support for Iraq's Shiia-led coalition government.

But speaking for his Arab colleagues at a news conference with Rice, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit stressed the Palestinian issue, saying he would like to see an elaborate agenda for the U.S.-hosted meeting, giving impetus to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the very near future.

"I believe that what is needed is accelerated moves in order to reach the horizon of that state, and an agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority regarding this settlement," he said. "This settlement that will be presented to the Palestinian people. If we wait, I believe this will have a negative impact on the general situation in dealing with the Palestinian issue."

Israel's Oldest Kibbutz Votes to Privatize

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem)

For nearly a century the Kibbutz movement in Israel was defined by its commitment to socialist ideals. Now that is changing. Israel's oldest and most famous Kibbutz is Degania, which was founded in 1910 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The Degania dairy is one of Israel's biggest and oldest. Cows have been milked here since 1910 when the Degania Kibbutz was established by Zionist pioneers from Russia, who believed they were building a socialist utopia. But Degania is no longer a socialist enterprise. It is being run as a big business.

The Kibbutz has a thriving industrial diamond business and it also grows and sells millions of dollars of agricultural products.

Recently, the 320 members of the Kibbutz met and voted to stop putting all their wages into a collective account and start receiving individual salaries based on ability -- salaries they could spend as they wanted. The move made headlines in Israel; Degania - Israel's oldest socialist Kibbutz - had gone capitalist.

Shay Shoshani runs the multi-million dollar operation. Shoshani, who has lived at Degania for nearly 30 years, says the reforms were necessary. "I can say to you that many people say to us today after we make the reform that now they feel more commitment and more "kibbutznik" than in the past. You know, in the world things and ideas change and we decided here not to stay stuck in the past."

Degania members now pay for services such as electricity and water -- and also a new tax to support the elderly and those less well-off. The changes would have shocked Degania's early pioneers -- a mix of socialists, anarchists and communists who believed strongly in a collectivist ideology. Most members backed the changes.

Degania occupies a special place in Israel's history. A Syrian tank was captured by Degania's members in Israel's war of Independence in 1948. The legendary Israeli general Moshe Dayan was born and raised at Degania.

America Goes Kosher (Part 3 of 4)


The kosher trend in New York got a big push last year when Madonna arrived in the city for her Confessions tour. After each show, she packed up her dancers and musicians and took them all to the Prime Grill for a steak.

These intimate gatherings got a lot of coverage by the local press and the fashion police raised an eyebrow at the relatively unknown establishment that Madonna chose to eat and party at. Madonna doesn't come to this restaurant only for its food; the owners play Israeli music and are sure that the songs of Sarit Haddad will make the desserts taste even sweeter. Madonna finds it hard to contain her excitement.

Madonna is a sure bet for kosher food, but a rather more unexpected personality who has found her happiness in kosher land is Paris Hilton. The idea that the young heiress finds solace in something that is not studded with diamonds has young Hollywood girls rushing to the Prime Grill in Beverly Hills.

The tabloids and entertainment TV shows were amazed when Hilton chose to celebrate her birthday at the kosher sushi and meat bar. She invited 40 of her closest friends, but 200 guests showed up. "She loves our sushi", admits the owner. "Before her birthday she asked us to prepare a lot of sushi, but she was most concerned about us baking a cake for her."

Even now, from the heights of the garbage dumps she's in, Hilton doesn't forget where she came from and who fed her. Although her plea to bring kosher catering to her jail cell didn't come through, two weeks ago during the embarrassing fiasco when she was under house arrest, she celebrated her temporary freedom feasting on kosher catering.

But even the huge amounts of kosher food that are going into Hilton's mouth still don't qualify it as trendy. So Sasha Baron-Cohen ("Borat") steps in to help. The English star probably leaves half his monthly salary at the Prime Grill. Baron-Cohen is seen so often at the Hollywood branch of the Prime Grill that the sight of a fork is rarer.

"Sasha eats only kosher food, so he has no choice", says the owner. "He loves steaks and eats a lot, often complementing his meals with expensive, kosher Israeli wine. He celebrated his Oscar nomination here with his fiancée and a few friends. But for Sasha, a meal is not a meal if it doesn't have Eyal Golan, Kobi Peretz or Shlomi Shabbat singing in the background. He says these songs remind him of Tel Aviv."

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