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Israelis Try to Keep Warm


Because of Israel's recent cold spell, the Israel Manufacturers Association recently reported a 30% increase in the sales of heater-air conditioners across the country. One chain has seen an increase of 200% in the sale of the dual units this week, with space heater and radiator sales jumping 300%.

Israelis are also looking for style in their attempts to stay warm, with fashion outlets reporting a 15% jump in sales of coats, sweaters and scarves. The Manufacturers Association also reported an increase in 50% in sales of down blankets. Israeli tea producer Wissotzky has seen an increase of 10% in its sales this week, and sweet snack and chocolate sales rose 17%.

Bush Ends Mideast Tour; Mubarak Endorses Peace Effort

By Paula Wolfson (VOA-Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt)

President Bush has ended his Middle East tour on a positive note, with a show of support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The leaders spoke after seaside talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

Bush began his Mideast tour in Israel, where he sought to encourage the peace process. He ended it in Egypt, one of only two Arab states that recognize the state of Israel.

Relations between the Israeli and Egyptian governments have been tense lately. But Mubarak said he supports Israel's efforts to reach a deal on the creation of a Palestinian state.

Speaking through a translator, he endorsed the goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the year. "We are ready, hand in hand with the United States of America and the quartet and all other regional and international stakeholders and parties to work for the sake of a comprehensive and just peace, to put an end to this Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to open new horizons for the Middle East."

During a joint appearance before reporters at the conclusion of their consultations in Sharm El-Sheikh, Bush said he believes peace is possible but warned it will not happen if Arab leaders turn away.

"I am optimistic an agreement can be reached, and the reason I am is because I believe the leadership of Israel and the leadership of the Palestinians is committed to a two state solution," Bush said. "And I know nations in the neighborhood are willing to help."

He said once again that he is committed to the process, and that people in the region can rest assured he would remain engaged. "If they wonder whether or not the American president when he says something, he actually means it," Bush said. "When I say I am coming back to stay engaged, I mean it. And when I say I am optimistic we can get a deal done, I mean what I am saying."

Israeli Troops Kill Islamic Jihad Commander in West Bank

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem), & Ha'aretz

Israeli forces on Wednesday killed a top West Bank commander of the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad in a West Bank operation. Walid Abeidi was hiding out in the village of Kabatiya, south of Jenin. The IDF unit came to arrest Abeidi, but a shootout ensued as he and his men attempted to prevent the force from entering the hideout.

The 44-year-old terror chief ran out of the building at a certain point, opening fire on the soldiers, who returned fire. He was hit and eliminated. Four accomplices were arrested as well. Two were wounded in gun fighting with the IDF and were brought to an Israeli hospital for life-saving treatment. No IDF injuries were reported.

Abeidi, who handled the logistical and strategic dispatching of terrorists for the Islamist terrorist group in the region, had been wanted by Israel for several years.

In response, the group launched Kassam rockets against southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. Also Wednesday, an exiled leader of the terrorist group Hamas ruled out a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Terrorists in Gaza launched more than 40 Kassam rockets against the town of Sderot, just across the Gaza border in southern Israel. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, saying they were in retaliation for the killing of Abeidi, a senior Islamic Jihad military commander in the West Bank.

In the Gaza strip, ruled by Hamas, Palestinian medical workers said an Israeli air strike near Gaza City killed at least three Palestinian civilians, including a teenager. Israeli military authorities said they regretted any loss of civilian life and have begun an investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Khaled Mashaal, an exiled leader of Hamas, said Israeli actions over the past two days in Gaza have put an end to the possibility that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would be exchanged for Hamas prisoners anytime soon. He said IDF actions would deprive Israel of getting Shalit back home, something he said Israel has been counting on.

The Hamas leader also said Israeli actions have ruled out any chances of a truce between Hamas and Israel, and he criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for continuing talks with Israel while Palestinians are being killed in Gaza.

A senior Israeli government official contacted by VOA says the Israeli government would not comment publicly on the matter, but that Israel demands the immediate release of Shalit, captured by Palestinian terrorists in 2006 from an Israeli post along the Gaza border.

"Abeidi was directly responsible for several murderous suicide bombings, amongst them the planning of the April 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in which 11 civilians were killed and dozens injured," an IDF statement said.

A senior IDF sources told Ha'aretz Wednesday that if Hamas decides to show restraint and hold back its attacks, Israel would do the same. However, they said if the massive rocket attacks continue Israel would be forced to reevaluate its strategy.

The officials said that at this stage the IDF is not changing its current tactics and it is not likely that the political leadership will allow an intensification of its attacks. They also said the situation will become clearer in the coming days.

Right Wing Party Pulls Out of Israeli Government

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem)

The leader of a right-wing Israeli party quit the ruling coalition government, Wednesday, saying he does not support negotiations with Palestinians that will result in Israeli giving up land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beitenu Party, said he was quitting the government, because he believes a withdrawal to Israel's 1967 borders would not end terrorism or bring peace. He said negotiations based on land for peace are a mistake and that Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank are not an obstacle to peace.

Lieberman has 12 seats in the Israeli Knesset or parliament. With his withdrawal from Ehud Olmert's coalition, the prime minister now has a majority of 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Lieberman, whose party is made up largely of Russian immigrants, advocates transferring Israel's Arab population to Palestinian areas -- something Israeli Arabs have strongly objected to.

Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University, said Lieberman's departure solidifies right-wing opposition to peace talks with the Palestinians. "I think it is the beginning of the challenge from the right-wing part of this government to the peace process."

Olmert's political future could be further jeopardized, later this month, when an official commission of inquiry will release its final report on his government's conduct during Israel's second war in Lebanon, in 2006. If the report is highly critical of Olmert, Israel's left-of center Labor Party leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak could pull his 19-seats out of the government.

The ultra-orthodox Shas Party has also threatened to pull its 12 seats out of the government, if Olmert moves to give up any part of East Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Joshua Teitelbaum of Tel Aviv University said although right-wing opposition to Olmert's peace moves is solidifying; the prime minister still has room to maneuver and could emerge stronger if he manages to show a strong hand in Gaza.

"Olmert is balancing this with what looks to be like a tougher stand on Gaza," said Teitelbaum. "As everyone knows the villages around Gaza have been bombarded from within Gaza and Israel looks like it is gearing up for a major move in Gaza. So that will, on the other hand, help him with his right wing."

Meanwhile, Israeli troops began dismantled two small outposts in the West Bank. Prime Minister Olmert has pledged to dismantle about 20 such outposts as part of his effort to revive peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Olmert Flip Flops: Says Diaspora Jews Should Speak Out

By Israel Faxx News Services

Ehud Olmert told Jewish leaders they have the right to speak out on peace and negotiating issues.

The Israeli prime minister spoke in a conference call with U.S. Jewish leaders on Tuesday in the aftermath of President Bush's visit to the region to promote renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Olmert was asked about Jewish leaders who say Israel must take Diaspora Jewish voices into account when negotiating over Jerusalem's future.

Olmert's comments come just a week after the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, sent the prime minister a letter urging him to take into account the wishes of Diaspora Jewry on the issue of Jerusalem.

Olmert told the conference callers that Israel could not reasonably ask Diaspora Jewish voices to keep silent when it relies so heavily on Jewish support overseas.

Nazi Archives' Opening Helps Israeli Man Track Father's Holocaust Death

By Ha'aretz

The last time 74-year-old Moshe Bar-Yoda saw his father, Avraham Kastner was about to be sent to a Nazi labor camp in Slovakia along with other residents of his Czech village. The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum archives have a record of Kastner being sent to the camp on March 27, 1942, but there the documentary trail ended.

Although a witness testified before the rabbinate in 1948 that Kastner had been killed in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, Bar-Yoda, a journalist and Jewish Agency emissary, did not know any of the details and had no record of his father's death - until now.

Two weeks ago, Bar-Yoda became the first Israeli to receive information about the fate of family members via Yad Vashem since Germany's International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen opened its World War II archives to the public at the end of November.

The tracing service said it serves victims of Nazi persecutions and their families by documenting their fate through the archives it manages. The archives include more than 50 million references that contain information about more than 17 million people.

Although relatives of Nazi victims had previously been allowed to examine the archives, the records are now open to researchers around the world and have been digitally transferred to the Yad Vashem archives, making it easier for family members to conduct more precise searches and find out exactly what happened to their loved ones.

After searching the International Tracing Service records, Bar-Yoda discovered that his father's name appears on the list of the dead whose bodies were incinerated at the Majdanek death camp in Poland on Sept. 7, 1942, six months after the two last saw each other.

Now, Bar-Yoda said, he can finally commemorate his father's passing on his yahrtzeit the day of his death instead of on the day designated for those who do not know the day of their loved one's death.

"After having said Kaddish [the Jewish mourner's prayer] for him for 60 years on the general Kaddish day on the fast of Asara B'Tevet, now I have a specific yahrtzeit," said Bar-Yoda. "And while it doesn't comfort me or make me happy, there is a kind of satisfaction here that I can move forward."

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said Bar-Yoda's tale shows how the newly expanded collection of records can help the families of Holocaust victims. "This story demonstrates how the tens of millions of documents collected by the Yad Vashem archives, in conjunction with the millions of new documents that have recently arrived and will arrive from the International Tracing Service archive in Germany over the next two years, will be able to help individuals fill in the picture about the fate of their loved ones in the Holocaust."

Yad Vashem had previously received many documents from the International Tracing Service, but will be bolstering its collection over the next two years. Bar-Yoda had looked through the Yad Vashem archives, which include microfilm of some 20 million documents received from the tracing service at the end of the 1950s. However, the Majdanek document did not reach the Bad Arolsen archives until the mid-1960s.

Family members of Holocaust victims can request information on the fate of their loved ones at

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