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Bush: Iranian Navy Move Provocative, Dangerous


President George W. Bush said Tuesday that Iran's confrontation with the U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf was a "provocative act."

"It is a dangerous situation. They should not have done it, pure and simple…I don't know what their thinking was, but I'm telling you what my thinking was. I think it was a provocative act."

Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, said an Iranian fleet of high-speed boats charged at a three-ship U.S. Navy convoy as it headed into the Persian Gulf Monday. The Iranian fleet "maneuvered aggressively" and then vanished as the U.S. ship commanders were preparing to open fire, he said. No shots were fired.

Abbas, Olmert Meet Before Bush Visit

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem) &

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a final meeting Tuesday before their separate talks with President Bush this week during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Just hours before Bush is due to touch down in Israel, Olmert and Abbas met in Jerusalem. Olmert and Abbas agreed to begin negotiations over the three "core issues" on which Israel is expected to make concessions: the division of Jerusalem, a return to pre-1967 borders and an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel. The talks are supposed to lead to the formation of a Palestinian state by the end of this year.

Olmert and Abbas agreed Tuesday to begin negotiations over the three "core issues" on which Israel is expected to make concessions: the division of Jerusalem, a return to pre-1967 borders and an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel.

Talks between the two sides have been bogged down since last November's Annapolis, Md. Mideast peace conference, with Palestinians angry over continued Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Israelis angry over continued Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Mahdi Abdel Hadi who heads the Palestinian research group PASSIA said both Olmert and Abbas are politically weakened, and it is unlikely either man can probably give the other what he wants.

"I think both leaders, Olmert and Abbas are weak, vis-à-vis their constituencies," he explained. "It is what they can deliver to their own societies. Olmert is facing challenges by other leaders to take over the prime ministership. Abbas is challenged by the partition between Gaza and the West Bank and there have been no improvements to the quality of life under occupation."

Since their last meeting with Bush in Annapolis, Abbas and Olmert have each accused the other of reneging on pledges to advance the peace process. Now it will be up to Bush to see if he can get Abbas and Olmert to bridge their differences and get the peace process that was revived at Annapolis back on track.

Abbas and Olmert's meeting lasted two hours and parts of it were held by the two with no one else present in the room. The mood, said Olmert's confidantes, was "very good."

There is a building boom going on in Jerusalem. Nowhere is that more evident than in Har Homa, a neighborhood of neat houses that sits on a steep hill overlooking the West Bank city, Bethlehem. Har Homa is in East Jerusalem and has been built on land recaptured from Jordan by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

When Israel recently announced it was going to build 300 new homes in Har Homa, Palestinians reacted with anger. They say the construction is a violation of Israel's commitment made last year at the Annapolis Mideast peace conference to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank.

But Israeli officials say Har Homa is part of Jerusalem, which they say is Israel's eternal capital. Those who live there agree. Ofer Tal says Har Homa is his home and, although he supports peace talks with Palestinians, he has no plans to move. "I think Har Homa is part of Jerusalem, it is part of Israel. We can share the place with the Arabs, they can and live beside us, we do not care, but the area is open for everybody," he said.

President Bush will not visit Har Homa and, even though U.S. officials recently raised the issue of Har Homa with Israeli officials, Bush is unlikely to press Olmert on the matter. Instead, Bush has said he will focus on the issue of illegal outposts constructed by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. There are more than 100 such outposts and Olmert has pledged to dismantle some of them.

Uri Dromi is a newspaper columnist and director of the Mishkenot Sha'ananim conference center in Jerusalem. He says even that limited objective could prove difficult for Olmert to achieve. "There are already warnings from the right wing that, if things like this happen, they will put out of the government immediately. So it remains to be seen. This government has not tackled a serious issue up to now, and this is really a time of testing for this government."

Israel Files UN Complaint over Rocket Fire from Lebanon


Israel on Tuesday filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following the firing of rockets from Lebanon toward the northern town of Shlomi on Monday night.

The Israeli representatives at the UN noted that the rocket fire was a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701.

In the letter, Israel said that the rocket fire proves that the Security Council resolution which led to the end of the Second Lebanon War is not being implemented as it should be in light of the threats on Israel and the UN peacekeepers operating in southern Lebanon.

According to the letter, Israel has been warning for months against the strengthening of the armed militias, including the Hizbullah organization, south and north of the Litani River, as well as against the ongoing smuggling of Syrian and Iranian weapons into Lebanon.

The Israeli representatives demanded that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon and the Lebanese government act immediately in an effort to prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future. The letter went on to say that Monday night's attack was a warning call to the international community and Lebanon to take immediate steps in order to implement Resolution 1701.

The Israeli representatives also called for the immediate and unconditional release of kidnapped IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. The letter ended with the demand that UNIFIL take efficient steps in order to prevent the smuggling of Syrian and Iranian weapons into Lebanon through the Syrian border, the entry of radical elements into Lebanon and the disarming of all militias and armed organizations, according to the Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has condemned a roadside bomb attack on UN peacekeepers Tuesday. In a phone conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Siniora stressed that the Lebanese security organizations were looking into the incident, as well as into the rocket fire on Israel overnight. Hizbullah also condemned the attack on the UNIFIL troops.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday evening that Israel must remain alert, as "we cannot know when the situation will deteriorate." Speaking in a meeting with local council heads, the defense minister said that two 107-milimeter diameter rockets were fired at the town of Shlomi overnight. "They were apparently fired by a weird faction somehow related to Ahmed Jibril," Barak added.

A Hamas Ideologue Bares His Movement's Secret Designs and Dilemmas

By DEBKAfile

Since elected to rule the Palestinians, the leaders of Hamas sound sometimes as though they are talking in different voices – depending on the place and occasion. While one appears to accept 1967 borders, another stands by the "right of refugees" (1948) to return" – another formula for Israel's destruction, like the demand for a Palestinian state ranging from "the river to the sea."

The tactic is transparent: Hamas, a designated Islamic terror group whose politburo chief resides in Damascus hopes to disarm the more susceptible countries of the West by apparently confused signals to end its government's isolation and get frozen financial aid back on stream.

But in their internal discourse, Hamas' policy-makers are unwaveringly consistent in their aims. Prof. Abdel al Sather Qassam, university lecturer at Nablus a-Najah University, is a little-known figure to the outside world. However Israeli intelligence rates him as Hamas' senior strategic ideologue and a highly influential voice in the Palestinian terror movement at large.

Recently, in a video transmission from Nablus, he gave a group of leaders of the umbrella terrorist coalition in Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees, and a stern talking-to providing some important new guidelines. One member of his audience was Jemal Semhadana, the PRC chief who was recently appointed commander of the new Hamas security service. Israeli intelligence monitors routinely listens in to the broadcast.

Qassam makes no distinction between Palestinian organizations, whether leftist, jihadist or semi-criminal, treating them as a single military force which, he maintains, for the war on Israel is a single entity which operates in unison.

He admits to severe damage sustained by the Palestinian armed movement in the past year as a result of by systematic IDF military operations in Palestinian areas and the hindrance posed by Israel's West Bank Wall (still only partially built.) According to the Hamas academic, the wall shot a large hole in the balance of terror the Palestinians had gained through its suicide terror attacks.

Al Qassam puts his finger on the Palestinian terror movement's primary predicament, the inability to make the transition from terror attacks to guerrilla warfare. He reproves the Palestinians for their childish and primitive grasp of the nature of guerrilla war, because of which " We (the Palestinians) of all the organizations share the same difficulty in mounting a challenge to Israel from the West Bank."

Dipping into history, the professor draws a comparison between the 1948 war, which was fought in Palestinian towns and neighborhoods, and the current conflict, which is being fought by Palestinians in Israel towns. If the Palestinians hope seriously to achieve a balance of strength with Israel, they must quickly restore the balance of fear and terror". To illustrate the point, he remarked: "Each 100 kilos of explosives brought into an Israeli town is equivalent to hundreds of thousands of tons of IDF ordnance."

"See what happened in 1996," he said. "The 50 kilos of explosives Hamas managed to bring into and blow up in Tel Aviv, sent all the world's leaders, those of Israel and Arab states, running to Sharm el-Sheikh."

The Hamas ideologue regrets that today, this 10-year old method would not have the same effect. Today, we are not just up against Israel, but "the army of informers and collaborators which swamps the West Bank and Gaza Strip."

The Nablus academic makes three suggestions to overcome this difficulty:

  1. Disband all the Palestinian security organs; they were originally created by the Americans and British for collaboration with Israel.

  2. Leave only the police to enforce law and order and no other security service.

  3. Send all the armed Palestinian organizations (terrorist groups) underground, reverting to their mode of operation before the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed. "No resistance movement can survive if it is not under cover; no war can be effective in the open," Prof Qassem intones. He ridicules the recent flamboyant street marches of masked men armed to the teeth and firing off rounds in the air and dismisses them as "fools and ignoramuses - or traitors."

His most emphatic injunction is this: "We can only attain effective strikes against Israel as a clandestine force" fighting from the dark.

With regard to the Palestinian missile offensive, the Hamas academic has this to say: "The Palestinians' biggest mistake was to start the Qassam missiles campaign against Israel from the Gaza Strip, instead of from the West Bank. We suffer more damage from these missiles than the Israelis, but the shock we inflict on them is equal to the damage and losses we suffer." Now he urges the original mistake corrected by moving the missile offensive to the West Bank with all speed.

In the Hamas ideologue's view, the Palestinian missiles miss their mark because their warheads are too weak and their aim inaccurate. It is important now to focus on obtaining missiles or rockets with improved range, precision and explosive power.

Qassam ended his speech by diagnosing the changes overtaking the Middle East at present as inimical to Israel and the United States. "America deployed its most superior military force in Iraq – and finds itself on the defensive across a broad region from Pakistan to Palestine. Iran stands at the center, wielding its nuclear program as an instrument for defying the world order America seeks to dictate."

The Hamas ideologue is certain the scales are weighted against the United States and Israel. For the time being, the Palestinian academic's advice to Hamas is to let matters be - only directing an occasional placatory statement towards the West and Israel. This period of calm, he asserts, is destined to blow up in a huge explosion, which the Palestinians are busily preparing.

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