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Muslim Pilgrims to Receive Unemployment Payments


Employment office officials have decided to allow Israeli Muslim pilgrims to Mecca to continue to receive unemployment payments during their time abroad, according to Ha'aretz.

While those registered for unemployment payments usually lose their benefits if they do not show up in the employment office at least once every two weeks, Muslim pilgrims will be allowed to leave the country for at least three weeks. Officials proposed a 21-day period in which Muslim pilgrims would be allowed to remain outside the country without losing their benefits.

However, the high court for Sharia (Islamic) law ruled that the offer was insufficient, and said that the pilgrims must have at least 25 days.

Israeli Regime to Welcome Bush with 'Open Arms'

By VOA News

Israel is gearing up for the visit of President George Bush this week, but the high-profile visit comes amid escalating tension between Israel and the terrorist Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel would welcome President Bush with "open arms." He told the Cabinet the president has shown great friendship toward Israel throughout his term and has been a strategic ally.

Olmert said Israel would discuss security issues with Bush, including what he described as the ongoing "terror" from the Gaza Strip. Olmert said a longer-range Palestinian rocket that hit the major Israeli city of Ashkelon last week marked an escalation, and the Israeli army would respond by stepping up raids into Gaza.

Israel has tightened sanctions on Hamas since it seized control of Gaza in June, when it routed the Fatah forces of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He now heads a moderate government in the West Bank. Abbas and Olmert will meet Tuesday to discuss Gaza and other issues, a day before Bush arrives for a three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.

Al Qaeda Tape Calls for Attacks on President Bush

By VOA News

A new tape posted on the Internet shows an American member of the al Qaeda terrorist network calling for attacks on President Bush when he travels to the Middle East this week.

In a 50-minute video posted Sunday by al Qaeda's media group, Adam Gadahn criticized U.S. foreign policy as well as Arab leaders who are hosting Bush during his trip. The authenticity of the tape has not been confirmed, and there has been no official U.S. government comment.

The U.S.-born Gadahn, also calls himself Azzam the American, spoke mostly in English and wore the traditional attire of Gulf region Arabs.

Gadahn has appeared in several al Qaeda video releases in recent years. A U.S. court charged him with treason in 2006. The FBI has a $1 million cash award for information leading to his capture.

Gadahn was raised in California where he converted to Islam. He later left the United States and is believed to have been living in Pakistan for the last several years.

Israeli Politicians Line Up for Barghouti's Release from Jail


Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai and former Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer say Marwan Barghouti, responsible for the murder of more than 30 Israelis, is a strong leader for the Palestinian Authority and should be freed from prison.

Ben-Eliezer, a former Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister who now serves as Infrastructures Minister, said he would "fight for Barghouti's release."

Vilnai of Labor, a former Deputy IDF Chief of Staff and currently the Deputy Defense Minister, has been saying for weeks that he supports release for the imprisoned murderer Marwan Barghouti. It was also reported some six weeks ago that former Defense Minister Amir Peretz had visited Barghouti in prison twice in the preceding weeks.

Barghouti has been imprisoned since 2002, having been found guilty of organizing three terrorist attacks in which five Israelis were murdered, and of planning a fourth attack. He was sentenced to five life sentences plus 40 years. Barghouti was acquitted at the time of over 20 other murders carried out at his behest, with the court finding that the evidence showed only his indirect involvement in those murders.

Staffers in the Prime Minister's Office said that Barghouti's release is not on the agenda. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter of Kadima said as well that Barghouti "has much blood on his hands and must remain in prison until his last day."

Barghouti, when and if he leaves prison, is slated to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Fatah-headed Palestinian Authority. The Hamas terrorist group is also demanding the release of Barghouti; with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hinting that Shalit would not be returned to Israel as long as Barghouti is still in Israeli prison.

Israel's government is planning a list of 400-600 terrorist prisoners it will offer to release in exchange for captive hostage soldier Gilad Shalit. Speaking Sunday morning with Army Radio, Ben-Eliezer said that if he sees that Barghouti's name is not on the list, "I plan to fight to make sure his name is put on it."

Asked why, Ben-Eliezer said, "On the other side of our negotiating table with the Palestinians, I want to see a dependable leader who will be able to come through on whatever he promises." Ben-Eliezer was referring to the convicted terrorist Barghouti.

The Almagor Terror Victims Association noted that Barghouti has already been freed from Israeli prison twice before - only to be returned to prison each time for even more heinous crimes and murders. He was originally arrested in 1976; after his release (under unknown circumstances, Almagor states), he was one of the initiators and leaders of the first intifada that began in late 1987. He was ultimately arrested and banished to Jordan, where he remained for seven years. He was allowed into Judea and Samaria in 1994 in the framework of the Oslo Accords, after promising not to revert to terrorism. In 1996, he became a PA legislator and the General Secretary of Fatah - which perpetrated many murderous terror attacks over the next several years. He was finally arrested for the last time (as of now) during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.

Olmert Warned: 'Talk About Jerusalem - Break the Law'


Two Jerusalem organizations have sent a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, reminding him that discussions with President George Bush or PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas regarding a possible division of Jerusalem are in violation of Israeli law.

A prominent lawyer for the Victims of Arab Terror (VAT) and Twenty-Four Shifts organizations penned the letter, warning Olmert that if he does not announce an end to all talks over the future of Jerusalem, he would be considered in violation of the law.

In his letter, Attorney Baruch Ben-Yosef makes the point that Clauses 5 and 6 of one of Israel's cardinal laws - Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel - mean that Jerusalem's status as the united and sole capital of Israel may not be compromised.

The first clause of the law in question, passed in 1980 under Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Yitzchak Navon, states, "Jerusalem, whole and united, is the capital of Israel." Clause 5 stipulates the precise area of Jerusalem, while Clause 6 states, "No authorities relating to the area of Jerusalem and that is in the legal purview of the State of Israel or the Municipality of Jerusalem shall be transferred to any foreign political or governmental element, whether permanently or for a set period."

Clause 7 states that Clauses and 5 and 6 may not be changed except if another Basic Law is accepted by the majority of the Knesset.

Bush: US Would Defend Israel if Iran Attacks


President George W. Bush said Washington would defend its close ally Israel in the event of an Iranian attack, in remarks broadcast on Israeli army radio on Sunday.

"Whether there's an imminent attack coming, I don't think so," Bush said in excerpts of an interview with an Israeli TV station. "If Iran did strike Israel... We will defend our ally, no ands, ifs or buts," he said.

Bush's statements came just days before he arrives in the region for his first visit since taking office in January 2001 and the first trip by a sitting US president since December 1998.

The visit is aimed at boosting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks relaunched at a US conference in late November and at rallying regional opposition to Iran's controversial nuclear program. Israel considers the Islamic republic its main regional threat in the wake of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated statements for it to be wiped off the map.

Widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, Israel along with the US suspects that Tehran's nuclear program is a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge Iran has denied. "If I were an Israeli, I would take the words of the Iranian president seriously, and as president of the United States I take them seriously," Bush said.

Israel Warns of Iranian Missile Peril for Europe


Iran is developing nuclear missiles capable of reaching beyond its enemies in the Middle East to Europe; President George Bush will be warned when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories for the first time since entering the White House.

A senior Israeli cabinet minister has told The Sunday Telegraph that his government is convinced Iran is intent on becoming the first Muslim superpower, with weapons capable of striking not only at Israel but also Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia as well as Greece and other parts of south-eastern Europe.

The Israeli government is furious about the recent US intelligence assessment which concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and hopes to convince the American leader that work is continuing on a bomb that poses a widespread threat.

In an exclusive interview, Avi Dichter, the Israeli minister of public security, warned that Iran was developing missiles with a range of more than 1,250 miles. "Iran is a big, strong rich country, and that competition in leading the Muslim world is well-known to all Arab and Muslim countries," he said. "Once you can reach with your missile double the distance between Iran and Israel, it means there is some farther target. Is it Egypt? Libya? Saudi Arabia? A European country?"

Dichter said Iran was working to develop missiles with a range that suggested ambitions beyond threatening Israel. He said Israeli officials would warn Bush that failing to take action would have serious consequences beyond the Middle East, where Iran was funding groups, including Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed last year how Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were spending billions of pounds on upgrading their armed forces to contain the growing threat from Iran.

Bush, who is due to arrive on Wednesday, hopes to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations launched at the Annapolis summit in Maryland in late November. But talks have made little or no progress since, with Israeli officials accusing the Palestinians of not doing enough to dismantle militant groups.

Instead, Israel has prepared a long list of concerns for Bush, including those over the US intelligence estimate and the need for peace talks with Syria. Dichter said Israel wanted to bring Syria out of the Iranian "axis" of influence towards a peace treaty, which would mirror Israel's 1979 peace agreement with Egypt.

Peace with Syria would reduce Hizbullah's influence, force Hamas's leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal, who now lives in Damascus, to relocate, and improve Israel's image and standing in the Arab world.

Dichter said that there was almost no hope of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord this year, and that a major operation against Hamas and other Islamist groups in Gaza would eventually be needed.

He added that the Palestinian Authority's loss of Gaza to Hamas in June showed it was not ready to take full control of security in an eventual state, and that Gaza must be brought back under control before a Palestinian state is created.

The Palestinian Authority has deployed hundreds of extra troops in Nablus and Bethlehem as the start of a crackdown on militant groups, and Dichter's PA counterpart, Interior Minister Abdel-Razek al-Yahya, said last week it had dismantled the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a violent Fatah offshoot.

Palestinians also argue, however, that their efforts to crack down on militant groups are hampered by Israel's refusal to permit them to be properly equipped.

World Jewry Living in Israel Hits 41 Percent in 2007

By Ha'aretz

The world Jewish population in 2007 is estimated at 13.2 million people, a rise of some 200,000 over 2006, according to a Jewish People Policy Planning Institute report published Sunday.

In the past year, the number of Diaspora Jews shrunk by 100,000, while Israel's Jewish population rose by 300,000. Israel is now the home of 41 percent of worldwide Jewry, the report said.

According to a poll conducted by the institute and included in its report, most American Jews fear for the safety of Israel in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and Iran's nuclear program.

Respondents from Jewish communities in Europe and Latin America said they were less inclined to feel an affinity with Israel and they believed radical Islam was being dealt with successfully in their countries.

According to the report, two tiers exist among Jewish communities abroad: A religious one, whose sense of affiliation to Israel is increasing, and another whose Jewish sense of association is weakening and among whom intermarriage is more commonplace.

Institute managing director Avinoam Bar Yosef said the state should allocate more funds to reaching out to the 'second tier' of Diaspora Jews.

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