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'Birthright' Teens Contract Swine Flu


Nearly a dozen "Birthright Israel" participants were put under quarantine after contracting swine flu during their tour of Israel, Israeli media reported. According to the reports, the teenagers also infected 18 Israeli soldiers who participated in part of the tour.

With their infection the students became part of the 131 people diagnosed with swine flu in Israel. About one-third of the cases were infected in Israel and the rest came during trips abroad. The current global outbreak has seen more than 35,000 people in 76 countries become infected with 163 deaths. There have been no deaths in Israel from the virus.

Lieberman to Clinton: Israel Won't Freeze Settlements

By Ha'aretz

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday that Israel could not accept the Obama administration's demand to "completely" halt activity in West Bank settlements.

"We have no intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria," Lieberman said during his talks with the secretary of state in Washington. "Everywhere people are born, people die, and we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements. We have to keep the natural growth." Still, he said, Israel "ready for direct negotiations with the Palestinians."

Meanwhile, Clinton reiterated that the U.S. viewed a total settlement freeze as "important and essential" step toward achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. She said that special Mideast envoy George Mitchell would look at a "number of critical concerns" regarding settlements. "There are a number of critical concerns, many of which overlap in their impact and significance, that will be explored in the coming weeks as Senator Mitchell engages more deeply into the specifics as to where the Israelis and the Palestinians are willing to go together."

Clinton also said that Israeli leaders have in the past shifted their stance on the issue, and expected the current government to evolve in the same fashion.

Mitchell, who met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, said that the U.S. seeks a "prompt resumption" of peace negotiations, and predicted preparations for the process could conclude within a matter of weeks. Western and Israeli officials said this week that while the United States wants Israel to impose a moratorium on new tenders for building in settlements, it was nevertheless considering allowances that could permit some projects already under way to proceed.

President Barack Obama's blunt and public call for Israel to halt all settlement activity in the West Bank has opened a rare rift between the close allies. But both sides say they are eager to work out their differences.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet Mitchell in Europe next week to try to hammer out an agreement, Israeli officials said. "That's our goal but we're not there yet," a senior Israeli official said.

Mitchell has said a key element has been trying to pin down exactly what Israel means by the "natural growth" of settlements that Netanyahu has said he will defend. In principle, Netanyahu says he wants growing families to be able to accommodate their children in the towns that Israelis have built.

While firm in demanding a ban on new tenders as part of an overall settlement freeze, Western and Israeli officials said the Obama administration was assessing in which cases continued building could be permitted. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said allowances for continued building could be made if, for example, a project in a settlement was nearing completion or for cases in which money has been invested in a project and cannot be reimbursed. "There's room for some flexibility in defining what's acceptable in terms of a settlement freeze. Where do you draw the line?" the official said of deliberations within the Obama administration.

The officials said the Obama administration has yet to agree to any exceptions, and stressed that Washington's stated goal of a total freeze in settlement activity, including building in existing blocs to accommodate growing settler families, known as "natural growth", would not change.

Mitchell said in Washington on Tuesday of his meetings with Israeli and other officials: "There are almost as many definitions (of natural growth) as there are people speaking." He added: "Different people have different interpretations of different phrases ... and we're trying to reach an agreement and understanding that helps us move the process forward."

Netanyahu has asserted that his government does not have the legal authority to stop building in cases in which tenders for new structures have already been awarded or when homes under construction have already been purchased. Some half a million Jews live among nearly three million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories which were recaptured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.

ElBaradei: Iran Wants Nuclear Weapon Technology

By Reuters

Iran wants the ability to build nuclear weapons to gain a reputation as a major power in the Middle East, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a BBC interview broadcast Wednesday. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran sees nuclear weapons as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats from neighboring countries or the United States.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election has cast doubt on Western powers' hopes of a new dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful rather than military. "My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology ... that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so," ElBaradei told the BBC. "It wants to send a message to its neighbors; it wants to send a message to the rest of the world: yes, don't mess with us, we can have nuclear weapons if we want it.

"But the ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is that they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East and they are. This is to them the road to get that recognition to power and prestige and ... an insurance policy against what they heard in the past about regime change, axis of evil."

Ahmadinejad indicated Sunday that there would be no change in nuclear policy during his second term, saying the issue "belongs in the past." Iran says it wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Vatican to Consider Revealing Holocaust Orphans


In response to a request by the Yad L'Achim organization, the Vatican says it will consider asking its church members to "reveal to Holocaust orphans their Jewish past and provide them with accurate information concerning their families. "This is the first time that Vatican officials have related to this matter publicly, Yad L'Achim said.

Rabbi Shalom David Lifshitz, founder and chairman of the anti-missionary and anti-assimilation Yad L'Achim organization, wrote to Pope Benedict shortly before his visit to Israel two months ago. The rabbi asked the pontiff to take action to reveal the "hidden Jewish children" of the Holocaust – if not to the world, then at least to the "children" themselves.

It is estimated that thousands of Jewish children were left with Christian monasteries or families by their Jewish parents during the Holocaust, in the hope that they would thus survive the war. However, untold hundreds of these children – Yad L'Achim says the number is approximately 2,000 - were never claimed, returned or told of their Jewish background.

A letter from Pope Pius XII to his representative in Paris on Nov. 20, 1946 shows that he ordered Jewish babies that were baptized during the Holocaust not to be returned to their parents. The recipient of the letter, Angelo Roncalli, who was later to become Pope John XXIII, often disobeyed these instructions.

The official Vatican response to Rabbi Lifshitz stated, "The matter of the children of Jewish families during II World War is a very delicate and a very complex one. I know that there has been action taken by the Holy See, but at this moment I cannot be accurate in my information. I assure you that I will try to provide more precise information and see if an appeal like the one you propose could be made [emphasis added]."

The letter is signed by Archbishop Antonio Franco, of the high Vatican rank of Apostolic Nuncio. Similar letters of support for the cause of locating the Jewish "children" have been sent to Yad L'Achim from the President of France and the monarchs of Britain and Holland.

Rabbi Lifshitz said this week that his organization and the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) have begun working closely on this matter, and that a joint office to deal with it will be established in the coming days. "There is no doubt," he said "that the holy parents and grandparents of those orphans, most of whom do not know anything about their Jewishness, cannot rest in peace before their descendants return to their forefathers' religion and homeland."

CIA Declassifies 1960 Report on Israel's Nuclear Plans


The CIA recently declassified a 1960 report on Israel's nuclear program, according to a report published Wednesday in the Washington Post. The report estimates that Israel would seek nuclear weapons to deter invaders and advance its national standing.

"In any public announcement concerning their nuclear reactor program, the Israelis would almost certainly stress the peaceful nature of their efforts, but they would also, as time goes on, make plain that henceforth Israel is a power to be accorded more respect than either its friends or its enemies have hitherto given it," the report said.

Sheikh Salah: Netanyahu Wants to Rebuild Temple


Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement's northern branch, spoke Wednesday afternoon in front of Muslim students at Haifa University and warned them that Binyamin Netanyahu was intending on completing his plan to gain control of the Temple Mount, which he said the prime minister had tried to do during his first tenure.

Some 150 Jewish students staged a protest in the area, equipped with Israel flags and drums. "This is not Tehran," they chanted towards Salah. The Islamic leader, who was invited to speak by the IQRAA students' organization affiliated with his movement, briefed the students on the history of his movement and on the criminal proceedings taken against him and his people several years ago.

He noted that he had rejected the Shin Bet's offers to agree to concessions in Jerusalem. "We love life, our families, our homes and our children, but if they suggest that we give up our principles and holy sites, we would rather die and we will welcome death." Salah claimed that the government continued constantly to dig tunnels under the Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa Mosque, and that Netanyahu was planning to complete during his current term what he did not complete during his first one – "to dig additional tunnels under al-Aqsa and rebuild the Temple on the Temple Mount."

The Muslim students responded by chanting, "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). At the same time, Jewish students clashed with the university's security officers. Police forces were also dispatched to the area but were no required to intervene. The Jewish students were protesting against the event and the fact that the university only allowed Arab students to take part in it. A Haifa University official said that Salah had not been invited by the institution and that there was no legal way to prevent him from coming.

"The university has reservations about Sheikh Raed Salah's remarks, as made in the past, within the walls of other universities as well, but it cannot prevent him from speaking to students. The university hopes that the sheikh will not take advantage of this for incitement but will rather call for peace and coexistence."

University officials noted that they had reservations over the event and that they had managed to prevent Salah from visiting the place for several years, including on the recent Land Day, but that legal advice given to the university recently stated that it could no longer reject students' requests to have the Islamic leader lecture to them.

Addressing the Jewish students' claims, the university officials said that they were banned entry to the event so as not to disrupt public order. "In previous charged events as well, in which (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman and (former Defense Minister Shaul) Mofaz gave lectures, we banned the entry of Arab students," one of the officials said.

The Students' Union said in a statement that it condemned "any racist act which includes hatred and a desire to incite. We hope for coexistence, and such a speech and such a person creates provocations and disrupts the order within the university's walls. We will not sit idly by as such a serious incident takes place in our home." The Union said its members had only found out about the events on Wednesday because the invitations were written in Arabic. They estimated that had they known about the event earlier, the number of protestors would have been much higher.

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