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Hamas' Mashaal Agrees to Return Control of Gaza to Abbas


Hamas politburo chief and arch-terrorist Khaled Mashaal has allegedly agreed to return control over Gaza's security and government offices to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority government of Mahmoud Abbas.

According to a report Tuesday in the London-based A-Sharq il-Awsat, Mashaal was persuaded to cede his terrorist group's control over the region during a meeting with officials in Saudi Arabia on Monday. It was not clear how or when the change of command would be carried out.

Israeli Forces Launch Gaza Offensive, 6 Terrorists Killed

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

At least six Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. The violence is casting a shadow over efforts to revive the peace process.

Israeli tanks pounded Palestinian terrorist positions as they rolled across the border into southern Gaza Tuesday. The incursion sparked clashes with militants armed with assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and landmines. Israeli aircraft also fired on terrorists in northern Gaza.

The army said the raids are aimed at halting Palestinian rocket attacks that have terrorized Israeli border communities. "Israel's position is clear," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. "The current situation is intolerable and we will act to defend our people."

It was the biggest Israeli ground incursion since the Islamic terrorist group Hamas seized control of Gaza in June, routing the Fatah forces of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

At least one more militant was killed during the army's activity in the northern Strip Monday night. During the operation about 40 Palestinians were questioned, and some of them will be transferred to security forces inside Israel for further interrogation.

The fighting came a day before Israel and Abbas' Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are to resume formal peace talks after a seven-year break. The negotiations were agreed upon at the Annapolis peace conference in the United States two weeks ago.

The radical Islamic Jihad group, which suffered casualties in the Gaza fighting, said the Israeli ground assault is the fruit of Annapolis. Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab said Israeli aggression is proof that Annapolis was a failure. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas refuse to renounce violence and oppose peace talks with Israel.

Palestinian officials in the West Bank also condemned the Israeli incursion, accusing Israel of sabotaging peace talks even before they begin.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during a visit to a Navy base in Haifa that "IDF forces will continue to operate in Gaza during the night to thwart the firing and manufacturing Kassam rockets and mortar shells. The public should know that as we are lighting the Chanukah candles – IDF fighters are working in Gaza day and night so we can light them in peace," he said.

Senior IDF officials said the operation in Gaza does not indicate a change in policy and is defensive in nature. Some 270 terrorists have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of 2007, the IDF said.

Palestinian Song Praises Attacks Eliciting 'Chunks of Flesh of Jews'


Hamas recently broadcast a music video on its Al Aqsa TV channel that showed terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, accompanied by the lyrics, "In black bags, chunks of flesh of Jews."

The lyrics to "Hamas - The Apple of My Eye," according to MEMRI, are as follows: Hamas, Hamas, Hamas the apple of my eye – Hamas. They destroyed the Merkava [tank the apple of my eye – Hamas (Repeated eight times).A bombing every minute. Soldiers are afraid. A bombing every minute.

Soldiers are afraid. In black bags. Chunks of flesh of Jews (repeated five times).In retaliation for Yassin we want Sharon's head. We want Sharon's head We want Sharon's head! Hamas, Hamas, Hamas the apple of my eye - Hamas They destroyed the Merkava [tank] the apple of my eye – Hamas (Repeated five times). The apple of my eye –Hamas the apple of my eye – Hamas.

The video includes scenes of armed children in military garb conducting drills similar to Hamas terrorists. As WND reported, Hamas has featured such images before. Celebration of terrorist attacks also is a common feature of Palestinian media.

Support Sought for Temple Mount Synagogue


Haifa's long-time Chief Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, who has taken part in many interfaith conferences and gatherings with Muslim religious leaders, says he's trying to gather support for a synagogue on the Temple Mount.

Cohen chairs the Chief Rabbinate Council for the Establishment of a Synagogue on the Temple Mount. Speaking on a special Temple Mount radio program on Voice of Israel's Moreshet (Tradition)-channel this week, he said he is working in the United States to amass support for the project.

Other rabbis have also called for the construction of a Jewish prayer site on the Temple Mount. Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu is among them, though he has not campaigned for this cause. Other members on the Chief Rabbinate committee are Be'er Sheva's Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri and Tzfat's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

Jewish Temple Mount supporters greeted Cohen's announcement with enthusiasm. The Movement for the Establishment of the Temple declared, "The holiday of Chanukah, commemorating the liberation and purification of the Mount and the Temple, is the perfect time for the establishment of a prayer site for the Jewish People on the Mount. This will be a step towards full Jewish sovereignty over the holy site."

Rabbi Cohen took advantage of the opportunity to call upon the observant Jewish public to visit the site of the Holy Temple. He said this must be done only after taking the prescribed Halakhic [Jewish legal] precautions, such as immersing in a mikveh beforehand and others. Hundreds of Jews have ascended to the Mount "in purity" - i.e., according to Jewish Law - on the various days of Chanukah.

On Monday, the famous golden Menorah (candelabrum) - suitable for use in the Holy Temple, and familiar to visitors to the Cardo section of the Old City of Jerusalem - was relocated to the landing of the wide staircase that leads down from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall. The $3-million, one-half ton Menorah is protected inside the same type of glass structure that has housed it until now.

Avoid the Middle East? On the Contrary

By Joel Widzer

A key principle of my travel strategy, which I call "Contrarian Travel," is to travel against the grain: Go off-peak, follow the dollar, look for distressed properties, eschew all trends — in general, look for the destinations and travel providers that need your business the most.

Right now, the dollar is somewhat weak, especially in Europe, where it is currently buying only 0.78 Euros. Airfares to Europe are also pretty high, as are hotel rates. So, the contrarian traveler looks elsewhere: to Asia, South America and, yes, the Middle East.

I recently visited Jordan, Israel and the Sinai Peninsula, and the trip was an excellent test of the contrarian strategy. Of course, the Middle East is a region steeped in history and rich in tradition; any good guidebook can give you the rundown on this most remarkable cradle of civilization.

But the imperative questions for me — and all contrarian travelers — are these: How safe is the region and how affordable is it? I found the region rated high on both issues. As an added bonus, I found the people to be welcoming, sincere and charming.

My first stop was Amman, the capital of Jordan, where I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The hotel was the site of a suicide bombing last November, along with two other hotels in Amman, yet I felt completely safe and would have no hesitation recommending the hotel to close family or friends. Security is now very tight but it is neither intrusive nor overbearing.

Upon arrival, I was greeted warmly then swiftly whisked through the security screening; the process and equipment are similar to an airport screening. All hotel guests pass though the screening every time they enter the hotel, as do all visitors. An alternative to the Hyatt is the luxurious Four Seasons Amman, which was not involved in the bomb attack; its bed-and-breakfast rates range upward from $195.

Check-in at the Grand Hyatt was pleasant. The desk clerk spoke perfect English, and he escorted me to my upgraded room, explaining everything in a congenial manner. After showing me my room, he escorted me to the club lounge. When we crossed paths with a member of the housekeeping staff, he asked that my room receive turndown service right away, a very considerate gesture, I thought.

Later that evening I had an authentic Jordanian meal of chopped salad and sea bass — with a drink, dessert and coffee — all for a pittance. When I misread my bill and overpaid by 30 Jordanian dinars (JOD), the waiter immediately noticed and corrected my mistake: "Oh no, sir, you're paying too much. It is only 17 dinars" (about $25).

My taxi driver was also helpful and honest. After dropping me off at the restaurant, he told me I could pay him later, trusting that I would call him after my dinner. When I did, he took me on a tour of the city, pointing out prominent landmarks for just 10 JOD, or about $14.

Jordan has plenty of modern shopping malls, a buzzing nightlife and five-star cuisine, but the great draw is its many interesting archaeological sites. A few of these sites include Petra, Jerash, the Desert Castles, Um Qais and, of course, the Dead Sea.

My second stop took me to the famed King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the flagship hotel of the Dan Hotel Group and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. The King David Hotel has been host to world leaders including Bill Clinton, as well as to many celebrities. Despite its notable guest list, I was upgraded to a room with a wonderful view of the Old City. The hotel has remarkable restaurants, a pool and gardens, and it is within walking distance of the major historic sites.

I spent an entire day exploring Jerusalem and still could not cover all the history of this extraordinary city. On my second day, I hired a driver to take me to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, where believers say Jesus was born. I expected crowds but found none. In fact, the guide who escorted me through the church, describing everything in perfect English, told me that he used to take 15 to 20 groups through the church a day, but now he counts himself lucky if he has 10 groups a week. Such are the benefits of contrarian travel: You get personal attention from a seasoned guide unhurried by pressing crowds.

After my trip to Bethlehem, I headed out to the Dead Sea where I took the obligatory float and mud bath. It was strange floating on my back covered in mud, but it was mysteriously relaxing.

How does Jerusalem measure up on security and affordability? Very well. Security was top-notch everywhere I went, and not once did I fear for my life. The prices at the restaurant and shops were much lower than I would expect in Europe. I was able to hire a driver and a new, air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz for only $100 a day and the driver knew exactly where to go and how to avoid precarious areas. Of course, most drivers will take you to a friend's souvenir shop, where you'll be treated to fresh tea or another drink; the driver earns a commission on the goods sold. These shops usually offer fair value, but if you don't want to be pressured to purchase anything, be sure to say that you're not interested in shopping.

I did not have a chance to venture much outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but Israel offers several other good tourist venues, including Tel Aviv, with its lively Dizengoff Street; Jaffa, an ancient port city now filled with artists' studios and galleries; Haifa, with its beautiful coastal and mountain views; and the sunny southern Red Sea resort area of Eilat. The Dan Hotels have properties in all these destinations, and they offer a frequent guest program in which members get reduced rates, earn bonus points and receive up to a 12.5 percent discount of food and beverage purchases, among other benefits.

Across the border from Eilat is the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, and on its northeast point, right on the Red Sea, is the Hyatt Regency Taba Heights. The resort is surrounded by mountains and has direct access to the sea. This part of the Middle East is considered to offer some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world.

Points of interest in the Sinai Peninsula include the Monastery of St. Catherine and Mount Sinai, which overlooks it. The monastery is built on the site traditionally regarded as the place where Moses encountered God in the form of a burning bush. Visitors can climb the mountain by camel or by foot. I didn't do it, but I've heard it's an amazing experience, especially if you can be on the summit (7,500 feet) at sunrise.

The Middle East is not a popular travel destination for American tourists, which makes it an excellent destination for travelers with a contrarian attitude. Is it safe? Reasonably, yes. In my view, the danger is overrated, and both the governments and tourism providers are paying very close attention to security. To my mind, the historical attractions, warm welcome and dollar value in the region all make the Middle East a great alternative to high-priced destinations. It's a contrarian pick, with contrarian benefits.

(Joel Widzer is an expert on loyalty and frequent flier programs. He is the author of "The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel," a guidebook on traveling in high style at budget-friendly prices. E-mail: or visit his Web site at

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