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2008 in Israel Begins with Removal of Guards from Buses


A government decision to stop employing the "Magen" unit to protect public transportation will go into effect on Tuesday.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said police would be responsible for guaranteeing the public's safety on buses. MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) expressed concern regarding the decision, saying he had met with representatives from the Public Security Ministry and was not convinced that police would be able to handle the new task facing them. Buses and other forms of public transportation are still a top target for terrorists, he said.

Four Palestinians Killed in Hamas-Fatah Gun Battles in Gaza

By VOA News

Palestinian medical officials said four people have been killed in gun battles between Hamas and Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip. The fighting began Monday when Fatah activists rallied in the southern town of Khan Younis to mark their party's 43rd anniversary. The rally went ahead despite a ban by Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Medical workers said exchanges of gunfire in Khan Younis killed a Fatah supporter, two Hamas members and a youth. Another 30 people were wounded. Gun battles also took place in Gaza City. Throughout Gaza, Fatah supporters celebrated their anniversary by firing shots in the air and setting off fireworks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech that he is ready to open a "new page" in relations between Hamas and his Fatah party. But, he repeated a call for Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza before reconciliation talks begin.

Speaking in Ramallah, Abbas called for dialogue between rival Palestinian factions and said military conflict should not be part of the Palestinian vocabulary. He also revived a proposal for early elections to help resolve the internal Palestinian conflict.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah have been high since the more-terroristic group won parliamentary elections in January 2006, routing the incumbent Fatah administration. The tensions erupted into deadly fighting that peaked with Hamas' takeover of Gaza in June. A Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum responded to Abbas' speech by rejecting his conditions for talks.

Olmert Curbs West Bank Settlement Construction

By Robert Berger (VOA News-Jerusalem)

Israel is taking steps to curb settlement activity in the West Bank. But Palestinians say it is not enough.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has sent an official letter to Cabinet ministers ordering them not to authorize any West Bank construction without his approval. The move is aimed at giving a boost to peace talks, which have been harmed by disputes over Israeli settlement construction.

Olmert has been embarrassed by several recent Housing Ministry announcements on settlements that have brought charges from the Palestinians and the United States that Israel is violating the "Roadmap" peace plan. The plan, which calls for a settlement freeze, forms the basis of peace talks agreed to at the Annapolis Conference in the United States a month ago.

Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is keeping its commitments under the Roadmap. "It is very important that we follow through with actions on the ground, no new settlements, no outward expansion, outward growth, of existing settlements," he said. "And it shows our commitment to moving forward with the Palestinians."

Olmert's new instructions do not apply to one of the most contentious issues, the construction of more than 300 new homes in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in disputed East Jerusalem (Israel Faxx editor: Land Israel captured in the 1967 war—land that had been seized by Jordan during Israel's 1948 War of Independence). Israeli officials said the Roadmap does not apply to Jerusalem because it will remain the capital of the state of Israel in any final peace agreement.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad disagreed. He said Israeli construction in East Jerusalem is illegal and undermines the peace process. "Those actions have to stop," he said. "They are clearly inconsistent with the overall direction that this process should take if it is to produce an outcome that is satisfactory to all."

Despite the settlement dispute, both sides have agree to move ahead with negotiations on the core issues of the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, refugees and the final borders of a Palestinian state. Talks will move into high gear next week when President Bush visits Israel and the West Bank.

Israel Eyes Al-Qaida Threat

By Israel Faxx News Services

Israel is taking seriously a renewed threat by Osama bin Laden to attack it.

After Al-Qaida issued a recorded message this week vowing to "liberate Palestine" - a reference to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip - Israel stepped up its scrutiny of Palestinian terrorist groups.

"Al-Qaida has many admirers within Israel's borders, mainly in Judea and Samaria and Gaza," Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio on Monday.

"Thus the chances of active Al-Qaida cells being set up here, with strong motivation to carry out major attacks, is something we should prepare for and thwart. Security officials have, in recent years, identified 'Global Jihad' elements in the territories who (sic) are predisposed to view Bin Laden as their leader and to draw their jihadist spirit from Al-Qaida."

Hanegbi noted that Bin Laden's recent message differed from previous ones by appearing to threaten attacks on targets in Israel. "There is a chance that his operatives will view this as an order to operate, even if up until now they did not think this was important," he said.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported that intelligence warnings had been received of possible Al-Qaida attacks being planned against Israeli tourists in Turkey. Jerusalem officials had no immediate comment.

Israelis to Bush: Bring Pollard with You


Just a week before President George W. Bush arrives in Israel, the Knesset Audit Committee has voted unanimously to have the State Comptroller prepare a report on Israel's handling of the Jonathan Pollard affair. Pollard has been imprisoned, without parole, in the United States since 1985 on charges of passing classified information to Israel.

On the occasion of Bush's visit next week, hopes have been raised that the president might use the occasion to bring Pollard with him on his airplane. Knesset member Nissan Slomiansky (NRP) wrote a letter to Bush earlier this month, asking him to do just that.

Countless other letters have been written to the President on the issue, one of the most recent of which was penned by Beit El resident Guy Sagiv. In a heart-felt but firm correspondence dated Dec. 31, 2007, Sagiv wrote, inter alia,

"...In your great country, a Jew is imprisoned - my brother and the brother of all Jews - is Jonathan Pollard. He has been imprisoned in the US for the past 22 years - long enough considering that his punishment is disproportionate to other spies who worked even for enemy nations. Jonathan simply wanted to protect America's greatest ally, Israel...

"You, Mr. President, have the opportunity to be remembered as one of the great political leaders of this era - and this one act of releasing an imprisoned Jew would earn you that title. The whole Jewish nation will laud you and remember you eternally as the leader who truly led.

"You will be arriving soon in the State of Israel, in the Holy Land. As the door opens on Air Force One, Jonathan Pollard can emerge along with you. History will remember this glorious moment as one of your crowning achievements. You can do it; you can bring him home, now. You have a choice either to be a messenger of God, or not to be... Please, Mr. President, do the right thing."

Just last month, Israel marked 22 years of Pollard's incarceration in the U.S. on one charge of passing classified information to an ally - Israel. His life sentence without parole, in violation of a previous plea bargain agreement, is wholly disproportionate to the average sentence - 2-4 years in prison - for this crime.

MEMRI: Hamas TV Cartoon of Hareidis Undermining Al-Aqsa


The Middle East Media Research Institute has posted a video clip of a cartoon aired last week on Hamas television in which anti-Semitic caricatures of hareidi-religious Jews are seen digging under the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in an effort to bring it down.

The cartoon features an Israeli army officer with stereotypical features to match those of the hareidim. At the end of the video, the message "The Al-Aqsa mosque is in danger."

While Muslim digging on and below the Temple Mount has resulted in the loss of valuable archaeological material, there has been no proof of danger from any Jewish excavations in the area. The nearest Jewish dig is outside the Western Wall of the Temple, which is a retaining wall built in the time of King Herod, 2,000 years ago.

Call to Murder Jews is Distributed in Ukraine Churches

By Israel Faxx News Services

An unknown group is using Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine to spread a call to murder Jews. The group, which calls itself the "Orthodox public organization of Odessa," distributed anti-Semitic pamphlets last week at some Russian Orthodox churches in Odessa calling for pogroms, the murder of Jews. The group expressed regret at the collapse of the Russian Empire.

Berl Kapulkin, a spokesperson for Odessa's Jewish community, told reporters that, according to preliminary information, the pamphlets were distributed by representatives of United Fatherland and the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine, both pro-Russian groups.

Rabbi Avraham Wolf, chief rabbi of Odessa and Southern Ukraine, called on Ukraine's authorities to end the incitement in the Orthodox churches against Jews. Wolf said he hopes Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko would keep his promise to combat interethnic hatred in the country.

At its session last week, the assembly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate declared activities of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine as "anti-church."

Selling Falafel to Eskimos


At times it is shaped like a ball, sometimes like a flat burger. It may have a pale brown color, or be darksome. It can have a smooth or grainy texture, and be eaten inside a pita or Turkish bread. Make way for hummus's brother: falafel

If you compare Nadav Weiss, 30, to a salesperson selling ice to Eskimos, he will laugh. Ice to Eskimos? That is no match for the challenge he took upon himself: selling falafel to the residents of Fairbanks, Alaska without ever cooking it before and in a place where most have never heard of the national Israeli food.

Yet, the risk paid off. Nadav's "Falafel Place" that is open four hours a day, sells about 200 falafel meals, and the locals love it.

Weiss arrived in Alaska after his army service and instead of continuing on the world tour he planned, he fell in love. Twice. First with the place, then with Terry – his Alaskan wife. When they made the ice state their home, they looked for a fulfilling job and a challenge. They decided on falafel.

There was only one problem with Nadav and Terry's Cinderella story: the couple couldn't cook falafel, nor could they find a pita in the entire state; so they opted for learning to make both. After four months of trial-and-error they stumbled upon the winning recipe and opened a stand in Fairbanks.

"At first, our stand was located in the middle of the Framer's Market in town. As the lines grew longer and longer, we were moved to a corner where our customers wouldn't be in the way of shoppers," Nadav said.

Although the resemblance to the original is evident, there is one big difference: Nadav's $7 pita is stuffed with falafel, tehina, parsley and… lettuce. "Although I tell my customers that in Israel we prefer our falafel spicy and with pickles, the Alaskans' craving for lettuce couldn't be squashed. So I agreed," he explained.

Despite his success, Nadav remained humble: "This story is not about an Israeli who traveled to Alaska to conquer it. I love this place but I wanted something to remind me of home."

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