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Israeline — Tuesday, February 18, 2003 —

** Four Soldiers Killed in Saturday Tank Attack
** Israel Lifts Closure in West Bank and Gaza Strip – Top Hamas Terrorist Killed
** Israel Busts Drug Smuggling Ring Suspected of Spying for Hizbullah
** PM Sharon Holds Talks with PA’s Fayad
** Dead Sea Scrolls Sent to U.S. for Rare Showing
** Other News in Brief
** Economic Briefs


Four Soldiers Killed in Saturday Tank Attack
Four Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed on Saturday when their tank drove over a 220-pound bomb in the Gaza Strip, near the Jewish community of Dugit, YEDIOT AHARONOT reported. The tank was part of a combined armored force in charge of securing the neighborhoods in the northern Gaza Strip, including Dugit, Nissanit, and Alei Sinai, and all the Kibbutzim in the area north of the border fence. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to the IDF, four tanks were destroyed last year by Palestinian terrorists, killing a total of eleven people and injuring seven. Since September 2000, 439 explosive charges have been used against IDF forces in Gaza.

Meanwhile, relatives held funeral services on Sunday for the four soldiers – Staff Sergeant Doron Cohen, 21, Sergeant Alexei Bilitzky, 21, Sergeant Itai Mizrahi, 20 and PFC Noam Bahagon, 20 – who were killed in Saturday’s attack.

Staff Sgt. Doron Cohen, of Rishon Lezion, enlisted in the army two and a half years ago and was the commander of the tank. His cousin said of him that he "loved his service in the Armored Corps and hoped to become an officer." Cohen was buried in the military cemetery in Rishon Lezion. He is survived by his parents and a sister.

Sgt. Alexei Belitzky, of Rishon Lezion, immigrated to Israel with his family from Russia about six years ago. He was about to complete his army service in July and hoped to study nursing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His mother described him as a gentle person. "He had many dreams and felt very Israeli. He would translate every army term for me into Russian – it was very important to him to include us in his world," she said. Belitzky was buried in the military cemetery in Rishon Lezion. He is survived by his parents and a younger brother.

Sgt. Itay Mizrahi, of Be’er Sheva, served in the Armored Corps for almost two years, insisting on combat service. "We loved Itay because he was a quiet person who loved to help people. He never complained of difficulties and was very happy in the army," his friend Arik said. Mizrahi was buried in the military cemetery in Be’er Sheva. He is survived by his parents and two siblings.

Cpl. Noam Bahagon, of Elkana, was the youngest of a family of four. Before beginning his military service last March, Bahagon was a student at a yeshiva in Otniel and volunteered his time working with the physically disabled. Friends described Noam as an idealist who always had a smile on his face. He was buried in the military section of the Segula Cemetery in Petah Tikva. He is survived by his parents and four siblings.


Israel Lifts Closure in West Bank and Gaza Strip – Top Hamas Terrorist Killed
Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz lifted today the full closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip allowing 20,000 Palestinian workers with the appropriate permits to enter Israel, HA’ARETZ reported. Mofaz enforced the closure eight days ago in reaction to serious threats of terror attacks.

In other news, Riad Abu Zeid, senior commander of Iz a Din al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas, was killed in an operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in the northern Gaza Strip Monday morning, the JERUSALEM POST reported. According to security officials, Abu Zeid had been planning a suicide bombing. Abu Zeid was an assistant to Salah Shehadeh, one of the founders of Iz a Din al-Kassam, who was killed last July in an Israel Air Force strike on his home in Gaza.

On Tuesday, IDF troops killed a Hamas terrorist and arrested 27 Palestinian suspects in the West Bank and Gaza, including three young Palestinian women suspected of planning to carry out suicide bombings. Hamas terrorist Muhammad Muhr was killed as part of the IDF’s new offensive against the Islamic militant group. Elite surrounded Muhr’s house located south of Hebron and shot him after he failed to surrender and attempted to flee.

In searches in Rafah that lasted from Monday night into early Tuesday, troops found bombs, rifles, grenades and ammunition, as well as a bomb laboratory that held 250 kilograms of explosives. In another structure, they found a suicide bomb belt and mortar shells. IDF engineers razed both buildings to the ground.

Sunday afternoon, six Hamas members died in a mysterious explosion in the Zeitoun neighborhood south of Gaza City.


Israel Busts Drug Smuggling Ring Suspected of Spying for Hizbullah
The Israel Security Agency and the Police announced on Monday that twelve Israelis had been arrested around a month ago on suspicion of providing intelligence information to Hizbullah agents in exchange for drugs, HA’ARETZ reported. Charges were filed yesterday against nine of the suspects – three Jews from Kiryat Shemona and six Arab residents of the divided village of Ghajar, which is located half in Israel and half in Lebanon.

Members of the ring are believed to have provided Hizbullah with intelligence regarding IDF deployment along Israel’s northern border, the location of bases and military installations, and maps of the region, including main highways and access routes, intersections, and shopping malls. In exchange, the ring transferred to Israel at least four to five tons of hashish.

Due to its unique situation, the village of Ghajar has become a major drug smuggling center and Hizbullah has taken advantage of the lax security protocols to nurture connections with drug dealers. Residents of the village of Ghajar are Israeli citizens, but the officially recognized international border runs through the village center. Israeli soldiers patrol the southern entrance to Ghajar, but residents are able to freely enter Lebanon from the northern section. "Ghajar constitutes a porous transfer point from Israel to Lebanon, whereby Hizbullah operatives are involved in criminal and security-intelligence activity given the absence of a real fence or obstacles between the two parts of the village," an Israeli police statement said. Security officials warned that Hizbullah’s efforts to set up spy rings and gather information from Israel were ongoing. In July last year, two drug dealers from Ghajar and Nazareth were arrested on suspicion of transferring classified security information to enemy elements in Lebanon in exchange for drugs and money.

Last June, Holon resident Nissim Nasser, a Jewish immigrant from Lebanon, was charged with providing Hizbullah maps of Tel Aviv, pinpointing the locations of fuel depots and electrical power stations, with the intent of harming Israel’s security.

In the most serious Hizbullah spy ring, Lt.-Col. (res.) Omar al-Hayeb from the Galilee village of Beit Zarzir and nine other Bedouins were arrested last October and charged with providing Hizbullah sensitive security information in exchange for drugs and money.


PM Sharon Holds Talks with PA’s Fayad
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held talks with Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salaam Fayad over the weekend, just a short time after PA Chairman Yasser Arafat announced his intention to name a prime minister, the JERUSALEM POST reported. One senior diplomatic official said the talks focused on reform within the PA and the possibility of implementing a gradual cease-fire. Fayad met two weeks ago with Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, who suggested and arranged the Fayad-Sharon meeting. The official characterized the encounter as "positive" and said additional meetings are likely.

Meanwhile, Sharon welcomed Arafat’s announcement Friday that he would appoint a prime minister, saying it is a positive development resulting from the heavy pressure placed on the PA’s Chairman. Sharon indicated however that the test for Arafat will consist of choosing a candidate for the post that will be able to carry out the reforms called for by US President George W. Bush. Senior Palestinian sources told Israel Radio today that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), the No. 2 figure in the PA, is likely to be appointed Palestinian Prime Minister.


Dead Sea Scrolls Sent to U.S. for Rare Showing
The only scheduled exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Israel Antiquities Authority went on display on Sunday at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Museum Center in Michigan, ISRAEL21C reported. The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd and include some of the earliest surviving text of the books of the Hebrew Bible – written more than 2,000 years ago. "I think that many of the people who come to the exhibit will be left thinking about Israel in a different light from the normal 6 o’clock national news," Peter Daly, staff member at the museum, said. "They’ll learn how much work has been done, by Israelis to preserve and translate the scrolls important the scrolls to the religious heritage of both Christianity and Judaism," he added.


Other News in Brief

* Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna stated that "certain progress" toward the formation of a possible national unity government had been made on Monday, HA’ARETZ reported. The discussions, which focused on political, security, and economic issues, were held during the second meeting between the two leaders since the January 28 elections. Sharon and Mitzna are slated to hold more talks in the future.

* The ceremonial opening of the 16th Knesset, whose members were elected in the January 28 elections, took take place on Monday. The dignitaries in attendance included Supreme Court justices, members of the diplomatic corps, top military and police brass, the chief rabbis and former presidents, Knesset speakers and MKs. Meanwhile, Likud lawmakers chose today Reuven Rivlin, the current Minister of Communications, as its candidate for the post of speaker of the 16th Knesset. Rivlin’s formal confirmation by the Knesset is seen as all but assured, as no other party has put forward candidates of its own to challenge the Likud’s choice.

* The cabinet approved on Sunday Minister of Interior Eli Yishai’s plan to immediately bring some 20,000 Falashmura from Ethiopia to Israel, HA’ARETZ reported. About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of them brought over in massive airlifts during times of crisis in Ethiopia in 1984 and 1991. The Falashmura are Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, while maintaining some Jewish traditions. Unable to prove their Jewish roots, most of the Falashmura were not allowed to immigrate to Israel, even though many have family ties there.

* Haim Katzman, Chairman and CEO of Equity One, Inc. and the Gazit-Globe company, rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange this morning, YEDIOT AHARONOT reported. The honor of opening the NYSE is usually reserved for heads of state, presidents and director generals of American and international corporations. Equity One, Inc is a self-administered and self-managed real estate investment trust that acquires, renovates, develops and manages community and neighborhood shopping centers mainly in Florida and Texas.


Economic Briefs

* The Ministry of Industry and Trade said its investment center approved seven investment plans, for a total of $7 million, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. Jerusalem’s Oridion Medical received a $3 million investment to develop medical monitoring equipment, while its sister company received another $438,000 to research diagnostic tools. In Shfaram, SSTM Food Industries received $2 million to set up a factory for coffees and spices. Companies in Kiryat Shmona, Ofakim, Nahariya, and Rehovot also received funding.

* Retalix announced an agreement with Publix Super Markets, a major U.S. grocery retailer, GLOBES reported. Under the terms of the deal, Publix will adopt Retalix’s StoreLine point of sale solution as its next generation point-of- sale platform. Publix is one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the United States, operating 747 stores in five states.

Israeline — Wednesday, February 19, 2003 —


** One Injured as Kassam Rockets Hit Negev Community of Sderot – IDF Fights Terror in Gaza
** Isser Harel, Israel’s First Spymaster, Dies at 91
** First Knesset Session Opens with a Salute to Ilan Ramon – Rivlin Elected Speaker
** Cooperation between Israeli and American Space Programs Set to Increase
** Israeli Arabs Take Lessons at Yad Vashem before Planned Trip to Auschwitz
Other News in Brief


One Injured as Kassam Rockets Hit Negev Community of Sderot – IDF Fights Terror in Gaza
A 43-year-old man was injured after four Kassam rockets were launched from the Beit Hanoun area in the Gaza Strip this afternoon, striking the Negev community of Sderot, HA’ARETZ reported. The Israeli man, who reportedly suffered wounds in the head and chest, was evacuated to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva. Several people also suffered from shock. "The Palestinian terrorists’ use of Kassam rockets against Israeli civilians in Sderot is intolerable," said David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office. "We will use whatever resources are at our disposal to slam the door on the terror spewing out of the Gaza Strip." The attack is the first rocket strike against Israel by Palestinian terrorists since 11 Kassam rockets fell in the Sderot area in January.

Earlier today, IDF Givati Brigade soldiers, backed by helicopters and tanks, carried out an operation targeting the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza in response to the Hamas bombing of an Israeli tank on Saturday in which four Israeli soldiers died. Soldiers blew up four workshops used for manufacturing weapons and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen. The metal workshops produce weapons, including mortars and rockets. During the raid, a Hamas homicide bomber blew himself up in an unsuccessful attempt to destroy an Israeli tank. 11 Palestinians were killed during the operation in Gaza.

Meanwhile, an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorist was killed this afternoon in Jenin when the car in which he was traveling in exploded.


Isser Harel, Israel’s First Spymaster, Dies at 91
Isser Harel, considered the founder of Israel’s world-renowned intelligence community, died yesterday at the age of 91 after a lengthy illness, HA’ARETZ reported. Harel ran the country’s domestic security agency (Shin Bet) for 15 years and Israel’s foreign intelligence service (Mossad) for 11 years.

Harel began his career at the outbreak of World War II when he joined the main pre-state underground known as the Haganah. Five years later, he was transferred to its intelligence section, which became the basis for the state’s intelligence agencies. In 1948, at the inception of the State of Israel, he was appointed to head the Shin Bet. He then became head of the Mossad in 1952.

Harel essentially built both the Shin Bet and the Mossad organizations from nothing and turned them into agencies with a worldwide reputation. His achievements range from arranging the mass immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel in the 1950s, to developing the Mossad’s ties with other overseas intelligence services. Harel also waged an unremitting war against the Soviet bloc countries’ efforts to recruit agents in Israel. The most spectacular episode of his career came in 1961, when the Mossad kidnapped Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann, from Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial. This success firmly established the Mossad’s reputation and elevated Harel to national hero.

Harel resigned from the Mossad in 1963 and then served as an intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1965 and as a Knesset member from 1969 until 1973. After his retirement from public service, he devoted himself to his writing career, authoring twenty books. His popular work was "The House on Garibaldi Street," published in 1975, and relating the details of the Eichmann operation.


First Knesset Session Opens with a Salute to Ilan Ramon – Rivlin Elected Speaker
A day after its ceremonial opening, the 16th Knesset devoted its first plenum session on Tuesday to "new prospects in the fields of science and technology," HA’ARETZ reported. Member of Knesset Shimon Peres initiated the discussion, calling it a salute to the memory of Col. Ilan Ramon, who perished during Shuttle Columbia’s approach to earth. "He gave his life paving a new path that enriches our lives with information and opportunities," Peres said. Two of the new Members of Knesset, Dr. Leah Ness (Likud) and Isaac Herzog (Labor) called for greater development of the sciences. Ness promised to push for the establishment of a national authority for scientific planning that would coordinate activities in technological fields.

Meanwhile, Likud Member of Knesset Rueven (Ruby) Rivlin was elected Speaker of the 16th Knesset today after serving in the House for 10 years, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. The 63-year-old candidacy went unchallenged with 104 Knesset members approving, none opposing and seven abstaining. On Monday morning, Rivlin had sent a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, where he served as Minister of Communications, enabling him to move into the Speaker’s chair immediately after the vote. Born in Jerusalem in 1939 and still a resident of the capital, Rivlin earned his law degree at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was first elected to the 12th Knesset in 1988, but was not reelected in 1992, making his political comeback in 1996. In the past, Rivlin served as a member of the Jerusalem City Council, secretary of the Likud party, legal adviser and chairman of the Betar Jerusalem Sports Association and board member of El Al, the national airline. He is the Knesset’s 14th Speaker.


Cooperation between Israeli and American Space Programs Set to Increase
Leaders of Israel’s space program are actively planning with their American counterparts to continue working together on space-related projects, ISRAEL 21C reported. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already committed to sending another Israeli astronaut into space. "We are already researching experiments for an additional astronaut to conduct on a shuttle," Aby Har Even, Director General of Israel’s Space Program, said. Following the lead of Israel’s space program’s founders, Har Even is adamant that an astronaut will only be sent if he is able to add to the mission with a feasible scientific mission. Despite the gap in budgets, (NASA’s annual budget is $15 billion while the annual budget of the Israel Space Program is $1 million.) Har Even said Israel could contribute to NASA’s program. Most of Israel’s aide is scientific, from its research into sprites (rarely photographed electrical discharges that shoot up from the tops of thunderstorms into the Earth’s ionosphere) and observations of solar storms from the Mt. Hermon observatory.

Brig. Gen. (res) Professor Haim Eshed, one of the fathers of Israel’s Ofek satellite program assessed that while the manned exploration of space and the scientific experiments conducted are useful, future space exploration must make itself commercially viable. Eshed states that Israel’s advantage in that realm lies in its expertise in miniaturization. Israel’s small budget forced it to develop small but powerful satellites, which are easily convertible to commercial use.

Budget constraints (costs of a launch rise exponentially with the weight of the payload,) compelled Israel to produce what Eshed calls one of the best "size for price" satellites in the world. Israel’s satellites like the AMOS, the EROS imaging satellite, or Ofek are smaller and lighter than American satellites, but include up to 90% of the same hardware, he says. In fact, Israel can produce, light, quality satellites for as low as $10 million each. For comparison’s sake, the launch alone of the Columbia cost NASA $450 million.


Israeli Arabs Take Lessons at Yad Vashem before Planned Trip to Auschwitz
Yad Vashem is holding special preparatory classes about the Holocaust for an unusual delegation of Israeli Arabs planning to visit the site of the Auschwitz death camp, the JERUSALEM POST reported. Father Emil Shofani of Nazareth is at the initiative of the trip which, for the first time, will bring Israeli Arabs to a Holocaust site. Some 35 people are scheduled to take part in the trip to Poland, which has been entitled, "From Memory to Peace."

Delegation members have said the purpose of their journey is to better understand the trauma experienced by the Jews and its role in the establishment of Israel. Yad Vashem said it would hold classes today for the group at its International School for Holocaust Studies. The participants will receive a tour of parts of the memorial, attend a lecture by Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, and be issued materials in Arabic about the Holocaust.


Other News in Brief

* A Gallup poll released Wednesday shows that support for Israel among the American public rose the last year with a majority of Americans feeling more sympathy for Israelis than with the Palestinians, the JERUSALEM POST reported. The poll, conducted February 3-6, shows Israel’s favorable rating is at 64percent, up from 58percent last year. 22 percent of Americans rate Israel "very favorably" – 6 points higher than last year. The highest rating to date, 79 percent, came in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.

* The Home Front Command of the Israel Defense Forces began distributing gas mask kits today to foreign workers, including those who lack permits to stay in Israel, HA’ARETZ reported. Seeking to allay the fears of foreigners anxious about possible deportation, Colonel Uzi Buchbinder, the head of the civil defense department at the Home Front Command said that the immigration police will not arrest any foreign laborers who arrive to receive a gas mask.

Israeline — Friday, February 21, 2003 —

** Florida Court Indicts Eight for Aiding Islamic Jihad
** Israel Urges UN to Crack Down on Syria on Terror
** Sharon Blasts Palestinians Demands on Jerusalem, Refugees – Terrorist Infiltrators Killed
** Hamas Seeks Closer Ties to Iran – New Evidence Revealed on Iranian Nuclear Program
** Israeli Delegation Meets with U.S. Over Aid Package
** Other News in Brief


Florida Court Indicts Eight for Aiding Islamic Jihad
Eight people, including four U.S. residents, were charged on Thursday in a 50-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Fla. with supporting, financing and relaying messages for the Islamic Jihad, HA’ARETZ reported. Those arrested in the United States were reportedly setting up a terrorist cell at the University of South Florida. They are:

– Al-Arian, the Florida college professor running the Islamic Jihad’s U.S. operations. Al-Arian is a native of Kuwait and teaches engineering.
– Sameeh Hammoudeh, 42, born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace, Fla. He also is an instructor at the University of South Florida and administrator at the Islamic Academy of Florida.
-Hatim Naji Fariz, 30, born in Puerto Rico and now living in Spring Hill, Fla. He is a manager at a medical clinic.
-Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 41, a West Bank native now living in Tinley Park, Ill., and owner of a small business.

Four men who live abroad were also charged and are currently being sought. They are:

-Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, 45, a Gaza Strip native and now resident of Damascas, Syria. He is described as the worldwide leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and is a former instructor at the University of South Florida.
-Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, originally from Egypt and now living in Oxfordshire, England. The indictment describes him as the United Kingdom leader of the group.
-Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib, 46, originally from the Gaza Strip and now living in Beirut; described as the treasurer of the organization.
-Abd AL Aziz Awda, 52, born in Israel and now imam of the Al Qassam Mosque in Gaza Strip. The indictment calls him the founder and "spiritual leader" of the group.

Islamic Jihad is responsible for the killing of approximately 150 people in past eight years, and has carried out hundreds of attacks, including homicide bombings, car bombs and drive-by shootings.

Most recently, it staged the June 5, 2002, homicide attack in Haifa in which 20 were killed and 50 injured. Islamic Jihad’s headquarters are based in Damascus, Syria.


Israel Urges UN to Crack Down on Syria on Terror
Dan Gillerman, Israel’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, gave his first speech to the Security Council on Thursday in which he accused Syria of openly supporting terrorist groups and called on the council to take the necessary measures against it, HA’ARETZ reported. "Of what use is the campaign against terrorism if others see that states which manifestly fail to live up to their obligations escape condemnation and are even elevated to positions of prominence at the United Nations?" Gillerman said.

Damascus, which Israel has long accused of funding and harboring guerrilla groups that use Syrian territory to plan and launch attacks on Israel, was elected last year to a two-year seat on the 15-nation council. Israel is not allowed to become a Security Council member. Gillerman, in open debate on the activities of the council’s counter-terrorism committee, denounced Damascus for regularly hijacking council meetings to launch "ritual diatribes against Israel, regardless of the issue on the council’s agenda."

"I need hardly point out the appalling contradiction between Syria’s membership on this council and its continued extensive and unapologetic support for no less than 10 separate terrorist organizations," he said. "In flagrant violation of… basic norms of international law, the government of Syria continues to provide financial and logistical support and safe harbor to known terrorist groups that operate freely and openly in Syrian-controlled territory," he added, urging the counter-terrorism panel to "name and shame" nations that support terrorism.


Sharon Blasts Palestinians Demands on Jerusalem, Refugees – Terrorist Infiltrators Killed
Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would reject two key Palestinian demands – a capital in Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes in Israel, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. "I don’t think anyone has any right to make a compromise when it comes to Jerusalem," Sharon said. "Allowing millions of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel means the destruction of Israel as an independent, democratic Jewish state," he added.

Meanwhile, near the community of Dugit in Gaza, soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian infiltrator who managed to cross the border fence and make his way about 500 meters into Israel. At the Erez checkpoint, border policemen killed a Palestinian terrorist who jumped onto a wall near the checkpoint and began tossing grenades at the soldiers stationed there. Soldiers found additional grenades on his body, along with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a handgun. The Israel Defense Forces demolished overnight Thursday the house of Aziz Haj Ali in the village of Jamain, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ali is a Hamas terrorist responsible for the shooting attack on a bus near the community of Immanuel, in West Bank, which left 11 Israelis dead and an additional 20 injured.


Hamas Seeks Closer Ties to Iran – New Evidence Revealed on Iranian Nuclear Program
The Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has sought to establish closer ties with Iran during the course of the past year in order to obtain funding for its activities, thus compensating for the drop of financial support from other sources, HA’ARETZ reported. Intelligence sources based the assessment that links between Iran and Hamas have significantly intensified on the frequency of visits to Tehran by leading members of the organization.

Following the September 11 terror attacks in the United States and the subsequent crackdown on US-based Islamic and Palestinian charities, Hamas has been having difficulties receiving funding from its traditional sources. Last January, President George W. Bush ordered the closing of the Holy Land Foundation, a Hamas-affiliated charity based in Texas.

Meanwhile, an Iranian opposition group – The National Council of Resistance of Iran – claimed on Thursday that Iran had a secret uranium-enrichment plant at the heart of its nuclear program. According to a Washington Post report, the plant is near the city of Isfahan, and was built with the help of experts from China and North Korea. The NCRI said the Iranians recently tested a centrifuge in a facility near Tehran, owned by a company called Kola Electric, which is officially designated as a clock-manufacturing concern. The Iranian uranium-enrichment program has been discussed in the past by Israeli and American officials in forums on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. U.S. State Department Head of Arms Control John Bolton, who visited Israel this week, held talks focusing on the issue with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


Israeli Delegation Meets with U.S. Over Aid Package
An Israeli delegation sent by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met on Thursday with U.S. officials to discuss a detailed request for a special aid package worth approximately $12 billion, HA’ARETZ reported. While the delegation was unable to secure a guarantee from Washington, an Israeli official said that Israel expected to eventually receive a positive response. The head of the Israeli delegation, Prime Minister Bureau Chief Dov Weisglass, along with Director-General of the Ministry of Defense Amos Yaron, Treasury Director-General Ohad Marani, and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon met Thursday for several hours with representatives from the National Security Council. Weisglass said that he hopes that the U.S. approval of the aid request will be given as soon as possible, and emphasized the aid issue was not reliant on Israel’s response to the "road map," or to President George W. Bush’s diplomatic initiatives. "There was not and is not any sort of conditioning of aid to the road map. Both channels are being conducted in completely separate manners," Weisglass said after meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Meanwhile, according to YEDIOT AHARONOT, Israeli Defense officials said today that the United States would provide Israel with a warning prior to any attack on Iraq. The warning is expected to be made shortly before the attack begins – a matter of hours, at best. A number of Israel Defense Forces units are preparing for the attack on Iraq under the assumption that they will obtain only a six-hour warning.


Other News in Brief

* Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has reiterated his promise to Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal to have the Qassam-battered Negev town designated a "front-line" community, MA’ARIV reported. Sharon is slated to bring the matter to the Government on Sunday. The move would make the town eligible for tax breaks, zoning and development abatements, and special government grants.

* The "camera-in-pill" developer announced today a breakthrough for its sales potential in Europe, GLOBES reported. The Israeli-based company Given Imaging said that starting March 1, its M2A capsule for endoscopy of the small intestine would be reimbursed by Portugal’s Ministry of Health. The decision means there will be reimbursement coverage in public hospitals throughout Portugal, which has a population of 10.3 million. Portugal is the first European country to offer capsule endoscopy reimbursement for small bowel disorders to its entire population. Although the Given Imaging system is widely available in the United States, only 47 million Americans have reimbursable access to the M2A capsule.

* The Judea Dessert was declared this week as a Nature Reserve, MA’ARIV reported. The reserve is one of the largest in Israel, its size reaching an approximate 0.5 billion square yards. It stretches from Ein Gedi in the north to the Small Crater in the south, and from the beaches of the Dead Sea in the east to the city of Arad in the west.