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Israeline — Monday, March 3, 2003 —

** Sderot, Gilo under Attack; Top Hamas Terrorist Arrested
** ISA Thwarts Hamas Plot to Bomb Sharon’s Convoy
** Cabinet Ministers Assume their New Responsibility
** Israeli-American to Design New WTC Site
** Other News in Brief
** Economic Briefs


Sderot, Gilo under Attack; Top Hamas Terrorist Arrested
Five people were being treated for shock after three Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in a residential area in the Negev town of Sderot this afternoon, HA’ARETZ reported. Sderot has been the target of several Qassam attacks in recent weeks. On Sunday night, the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo came under Palestinian gunfire for the first time in more than five months. No injuries or damages were reported.

Meanwhile, for the second time in two days, the Israel Defense Forces carried out an overnight counter-terrorist mission moving deep into the Gaza Strip in order to target Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. Sheik Mohammed Taha – one of five original founders of Hamas – was arrested during the operation, becoming the most senior terrorist to be detained since Palestinian violence erupted 29 months ago. Six other terrorists – including four members of the Taha family- were also apprehended during the raid and taken in for questioning. IDF forces demolished the house of Sami Abdul Salam, one of the homicide bombers behind the attack in Gush Katif on February 9 in which four soldiers were wounded. The houses of Mahsan Fuad Alur (a terrorist stowing weapons for Hamas) and Hassan Hassnin (an Islamic Jihad member) were also destroyed. The army withdrew from the Gaza Strip at the end of the operation. Eight Palestinians were killed in gun battles with IDF soldiers. Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz said on Sunday that the army would step up strikes against Hamas. "We want to arrive at a situation where the terror organizations invest more and more (effort) defending themselves," he said. Also today, Israeli forces entered the Kasbah area in central Nablus, and arrested a number of Palestinians wanted for questioning.

In other news, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced an Israeli Arab to ten years in prison today for planning to bring two Palestinian homicide bombers into Israel to carry out an attack in Petah Tikva in November 2001.


ISA Thwarts Hamas Plot to Bomb Sharon’s Convoy
Israel Security Agency revealed on Sunday that it arrested a Bethlehem-based Hamas terror cell last month which planned to bomb Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s convoy during one of his visits to the West Bank, YEDIOT AHARONOT reported. According to security sources, the cell gathered detailed intelligence on Sharon’s movements, prepared a precise plan of attack and collected weapons. The ISA thwarted the plot after it arrested cell member Fadi Mortajia who confessed he was receiving instructions from Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip. Mortajia also admitted to being involved in numerous shooting and bombing attacks in the Bethlehem area, including rigging a donkey with explosives that blew up on January 26 near a bus but did not cause casualties. His arrest led to the capture other cell members and security forces said they were still searching for more accomplices to the cell. Mortajia revealed the cell had other terror plans including the attack on a synagogue and the launching of mortar against Jerusalem. According to the ISA, Israeli security forces thwarted 57 terrorist attacks during the month of February, including 44 in which would-be homicide bombers and their dispatchers were arrested. The majority of which were affiliated with the Fatah’s Tanzim, 12 with Islamic Jihad, and 12 with Hamas.


Cabinet Ministers Assume their New Responsibility
Twenty of the newly appointed ministers of Israel’s 30th government assumed the responsibilities of their new posts today, HA’ARETZ reported. The first meeting of the Government is scheduled to take place this Tuesday. The incoming ministers have been asked to present the Cabinet with the most pressing issues on their agendas as well as a timetable for completion of their immediate goals.

Minister of Finance Benyamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom attended a changing of the guard ceremony at both their respective ministries. Netanyahu enters his new role with two stated primary goals: to formulate a broad emergency economic plan to stabilize the Israeli economy, and to continue negotiations to secure a $12 billion aid package from the U.S. Shalom said that he was handing Netanyahu an economy that was beginning to show signs of recovery. "The economic figures publicized in the past two months prove that an economic recovery has begun," Shalom said.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu’s team prepared an extensive training package for Shalom, including recommendations on the Ministry’s future direction, information on the status of the Middle East following an Iraqi war, and suggestions on the management of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Shalom is expected to plan a U.S. visit to discuss the American-backed road map peace initiative.

In a symbolic move, Avraham Poraz, who took over the Ministry of Interior from Eli Yishai today, decided to grant, on his first day in office, a three-year temporary resident permit to Natasha Senikova, whose son was killed in the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium terrorist attack in 2001.

Meanwhile, three new ministers – two from the National Religious Party and one from Likud partner Yisrael b’Aliyah – are to be sworn into office today. From the NRP, party chairman Effi Eitam and Zevulun Orlev will take office, after the party’s central committee voted Sunday to place them respectively in the Ministry of Housing and Ministry of Welfare. Natan Sharansky will act as Minister without Portfolio responsible for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs.

In other news, the Likud Knesset faction chose Yuval Steinitz today as the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Likud faction has already decided who will head a variety of posts: MK Michael Eitan will become head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; MK Gila Gamliel will serve as chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Women; MK Abraham Hirchson will head the Finance Committee.


Israeli-American to Design New WTC Site
Daniel Libeskind, the architect chosen to design the complex, which will stand on the site of the World Trade Center, holds a joint Israeli-U.S. citizenship, ISRAEL21C reported. Libeskind, who currently lives in Berlin, said he did not discount the chapter of his life spent in Israel nor his Jewish roots. "I am still an Israeli," he said. He recently noted in a German newspaper that parallels for his plan for rebuilding Ground Zero in Manhattan can be found in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Keeping in mind the deep sensitivities of victims and their families, Libeskind said that Ground Zero must be viewed as hallowed land which is also part of ongoing history – like the Temple Mount, the site in Jerusalem sacred to Moslems as the Dome of the Rock.

"There are precedents, the Temple Mount for example," he said. "It is one of the most positive places in the world and yet a site of utter destruction. We must accept that September 11 is irreversible. We can never return to the time before then. The question now is: How can we transform this insight into something positive?"

Libeskind’s project includes the construction of the world’s tallest building at the World Trade Center site and a memorial to the victims of September 11, 2001. The plan for the building on the WTC site contains a "Matrix of Heroes" that will radiate outward from a central plaza. Its lines would trace the routes taken by firemen, policemen and rescue workers as they entered the site on September 11. But they will also extend upward and out toward the horizon to include all citizens in "the matrix of life."

Libeskind was born in Poland to Holocaust survivors and in 1957 his family moved to Israel. They later relocated to New York. His current project list includes a Jewish museum in San Francisco, a convention center at Bar-Ilan University, extensions to museums in Denver and Toronto, the interior of Copenhagen’s Jewish museum, the largest shopping center in Europe, and an extension to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.


Other News in Brief

* Israel is deploying more Patriot missile interceptor batteries in anticipation of a possible war on Iraq, The JERUSALEM POST reported. A senior security official revealed a second German-supplied Patriot battery is expected to be operational within days, to enhance similar defense systems already deployed in the country. Patriots are capable of intercepting enemy missiles at a lower altitude than the Arrow missile, which does so at an approximate altitude of 44 miles.

* The Jezreel Valley Regional Council installed mini cameras on buses in an effort to prevent violence and damage to buses, MA’ARIV reported. The safety of the approximate 4,500 students riding these buses daily, has been put at risk by random violent acts and the destruction of property. The Regional Council notified the students of the existence of the cameras on the buses. Since the camera installations, there has been a drop in violent incidents reported.


Economic Briefs

* Researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev have developed a biosensor to detect water pollutants in real time, GLOBES reported. The biosensor is a genetically engineered photo luminescent bacterium that shines in the presence of toxins. The photoluminescence is detected by a fiber optic cable, thereby confirming the presence of pollutants. The brightness of the light emitted is proportional to the toxicity of the water sample.

* The capital market is likely to take a positive view of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment as Minister of Finance, given his political, diplomatic, and professional experience, GLOBES reported. His senior status will serve him well in his difficult task of cutting the budget, Bank Hapoalim economists predicted in their weekly economic review. The bank also regards the information of the new cabinet as further cause for optimism, since it is likely to dispel the uncertainty regarding the immediate addressing of urgent matters on the Government agenda. The most important of these is a deep budget cut, which is essential for obtaining U.S. loan guarantees and military aid.

Israeline — Friday, March 7, 2003 —

** Israel Remembers Victims of Haifa Terror Attack
** Security Cabinet Approves IDF Operations against Terror Groups
** Jewish Agency Plans Fast-Track Conversion for Immigrants from CIS
** Moody’s Reaffirms Israel’s Currency Ceilings
** Other News in Brief
** Economic Briefs


Israel Remembers Victims of Haifa Terror Attack
Most of the 15 victims of Wednesday’s Haifa bus homicide bombing were Israel Defense Forces soldiers and teenagers, and included a father and son, HA’ARETZ reported. The names of 14 of the 15 victims were released for publication as of this morning, after they were identified by doctors at the Abu Kabir Forensics Institute. One of the victims has not yet been identified. Of the more than 50 people wounded in the attack, 22 remained hospitalized in Haifa this morning, two in very serious condition, five in serious condition and the rest sustaining light to moderate injuries. Below are the names and details of most of Wednesday’s victims:

St.-Sgt. Eliyahu Laham, 22, of Haifa. Eliyahu (Eli) Laham, the eldest in his family, served in the Military Police in Megiddo. He was on his way to visit his grandfather in the Carmel Hospital when he was killed. Eli’s uncle, Eli Dinur, related that he was to have completed his army service in a month and a half. "He was the fighter in the family," he said. Eliayhu recently told his father that he was planning to travel to Thailand after the army, and his father cautioned him of terror warnings there. Eli replied, "I could also die near home." Laham will be buried in the military cemetery in Haifa. He is survived by his parents, a brother and sister.

St.-Sgt. Be’eri Oved, 21, of Rosh Pina. Be’eri Oved, the youngest in his family, grew up in Rosh Pina in the Upper Galilee and completed his high school studies in nearby Hatzor. An artillery instructor, he was to have completed his army service in another five months. He was on a week’s leave from the army and was on his way to visit his grandfather and grandmother at a senior citizens’ home in Haifa when he was killed. His sister Limor said, "Be’eir was generous, bashful and modest. His favorite hobby was computers." Oved was buried in Rosh Pina. He is survived by his parents, Shula and Zamir, a brother and sister.

Maryam Mustafa Atar, 27, of Haifa.

Smadar Firstater, an 11th grade student majoring in art at the WIZO High School, planned to continue her studies and become an artist. She was standing at the back door of the bus, about to get off, when she was killed. Her parents heard the blast from their home nearby. Smadar was buried in Haifa. She is survived by her parents, Benny and Esther, and an older brother in the army.

Kamar Abu Hamed, 12, of Daliat al-Carmel. Kamar, an eighth grade student at Haifa’s Municipal "E" High School, was on her way home when she was killed in the bombing. The Abu Hamed family was well-known in Daliat al-Carmel, a Druze town on the Carmel. Local council head Dr. Ramzi Halabi said, "Today Dalia has lost its moon – the meaning of the name Kamar." Kamar’s uncle, a former police officer and sapper, described her as a quiet girl, who "loved everyone and did everything to succeed at school." Abu Hamed was buried in Daliat al-Carmel. She is survived by her parents, Yusuf and Johar, a brother and sister.

Daniel Haroush, 16, of Safed. Haroush, an 11th grader at the military academy affiliated with Haifa’s Reali High School, had finished classes early because most of his schoolmates had gone on a school trip to Poland. He had gone downtown to pick up forms for driver’s education classes and was on his way back to school when the terrorist struck. His sister, Ronit, related how their parents had just last week signed permission for Daniel to join the regular army upon his enlistment next year, because he planned on a military career. "He wanted to take the pilot’s course, that was his dream, and he would have made it," said Ronit. "He was outstanding in everything he did, ever since he was little. This summer he was supposed to take a parachuting course." Haroush was buried in Safed. He is survived by his parents, Moni and Tzippi, and three older sisters.

Mordechai (Motti) Hershko, 41, of Haifa. Motti Hershko was returning from a peace workshop with his son, Tom, when the terrorist struck. Family members related that financial difficulties had recently forced his father to sell his car, which was why the two were riding the bus. They sat side by side and were killed together. Hershko and his former wife, Ruth, had been divorced for a number of years, but he maintained close contact with his only son. Eli David, Ruth’s brother, noted that the two were best friends. "In death, as in life, they were inseparable," he said.

Tom Hershko, 16, of Haifa. A graphics student at the Hannah Szenes ORT School, Hershko was the only child of his parents. He lived with his mother, but maintained close contact with his father. "They studied karate together and enjoyed spending hours in each other’s company," Ruth, Tom’s mother, said. "He was a splendid father," she said of her former husband. Tom had almost got his black belt, but had injured his finger and put off the test. Ruth related how Tom had happily phoned from the bus to tell her he and his father were bringing her a surprise. "He’ll take this surprise with him to the grave," she said, but noted that she had also planned to greet Tom with a surprise. "He loved to surf the Internet, and yesterday I had him connected to the fast Internet cable service. Now nobody will use it." Mordechai and Tom Hershko will be buried in Haifa. Ruth has asked that a space be saved in the cemetery next to them, so that one day she can be buried at their side.

Meital Katav, 20, of Haifa. Katav completed her compulsory military service on the Lebanese border a month ago and a half ago, and had begun working as a gas station attendant on Mount Carmel. "She was a sweet girl with a lovely smile," her uncle, Carmi Katav, said. Katav had phoned her sister, Vered, to tell her she had just got on the No. 37 bus for home, when the call was cut off by the explosion. Katav was buried in Haifa. She is survived by her parents and four older siblings.

Tal Kerman, 17, of Haifa. A senior at Haifa’s Municipal "Hei" High School, Kerman had recently been involved in planning her class’ graduation celebrations. A friend described her as "always cheerful and intense, always wanting to do things and to be involved." Another noted that, "She always helped all of us." Kerman wrote for the school paper and was about to be named editor. She participated in her school’s delegation to a conference in Boston. Kerman will be buried in Haifa. She is survived by her parents and a younger brother in fifth grade.

Abigail Leitel, 14, of Haifa. Abigail, an eighth grader at Haifa’s Reali High School and majoring in biology and environmental studies, was on her way home from school. Born in New Hampshire, she came to Israel as an infant when her father came to study at Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa. He was later appointed representative of the Baptist Church in Israel. The high school’s principal, Zvika Reiter, described Abigail as having been mature for her age and cheerful. Her brother Joshua said, "My sister was a creative girl who loved everyone. Her first love was for humanity, and after that, nature." He added, "She always believed that God loves her and wouldn’t let anything happen to her. But in the end the pain and sadness has reached us as well." Avigail Leitel and Yuval Mendelevitch, also killed in the bombing, had been part of the Children Teaching Children program at Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva since last September – a program that teaches pluralism, tolerance and coexistence. They and their classmates were preparing for the upcoming encounter with Arab youth from a neighboring town in just a few days. The encounter will be dedicated to their memory. Leitel will be buried on Sunday in the Christian cemetery in Haifa. She is survived by her parents, Philip and Heidi, and four siblings.

Yuval Mendelevitch, 13, of Haifa. Yuval’s father, Yossi, related how his son would phone him every day on his way home from the Reali School. "We were having a normal conversation," Yossi told a radio interviewer, "when suddenly he said, ‘I love you, Dad.’ In retrospect, those were his last words. The call was cut off." Yossi and his wife journeyed to Abu Kabir to identify Yuval’s body. "They didn’t show us Yuval," Yossi said, "and it was better that way. I want to remember him whole, a handsome boy, like in his pictures. He was a boy with great potential. He loved computer games, mathematics, wall climbing, he joined a hiking club, he was a good student at Reali, he loved to help others… [His death] is like a black ink stain spreading over your consciousness; a black hole that will never be filled." Mendelevitch was buried in Haifa. He is survived by his parents, Yossi and Hagit.

Mark Takash, 54, of Haifa. Mark Takash immigrated to Israel 13 years ago and was employed as a guard at Haifa University. He was on his way to the university for the afternoon shift when he was killed. Mark was divorced, and his ex-wife and son reside in the United States. He has several relatives in Israel. His brother-in-law, Ya’acov, related: "He always had a smile on his face. He was an optimistic person, who always had people around him. He loved to tell stories." Takash will be buried in Haifa.

Assaf Tzur (Zolinger), 17, of Haifa. Assaf Tzur was an eleventh grade student majoring in computers at the Hannah Szenes ORT School. He was traveling home with his girlfriend, Ortal. She kissed him goodbye and got off the bus. Three stops later the bomb exploded and Assaf was killed. His friend Yanai related that Assaf liked to ride his skateboard and listen to music. "He was friends with everyone." School principal Rivka Shatz said, "Assaf was a charming boy, blond, the darling of the girls – and not only the girls." Tzur was buried in Haifa.


Security Cabinet Approves IDF Operations against Terror Groups
The new political-security cabinet approved on Wednesday night a defense establishment request to carry out operations against the terror infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to the homicide bombing attack that killed 15 people in Haifa earlier that day, HA’ARETZ reported. An official indicated that the Haifa bombing was deliberately timed to escalate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and create tensions between Israel and the United States on the eve of a possible US attack against Iraq. Israel is not expected to modify the counter-terror policies already enforced by the previous government, the official said. The new cabinet decided to impose a full closure on the West Bank until Sunday.

The Israel Defense Forces began early today counter-terrorism operations in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Jabalya. The IDF rejected claims that eight Palestinians were killed and at least 30 wounded by a tank shell fired at a group of people during the operation. A senior IDF officer involved in the raid on Jabalya explained that tank shells were fired in order to target a terrorist attempting to fire RPG rockets at IDF troops. However, he stressed the shells were fired only after the terrorist had holed himself up in a structure next to a building in which an explosive device had just been detonated, causing the blast.

In the West Bank town of Tulkarm, IDF undercover troops arrested two Hamas terrorists identified as Mahmoud el Yihiye and Hassin Badoui today.

In other news, Police arrested three Palestinian youths today on suspicion of attacking security guards at the Hadassah University Hospital on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem and damaging the emergency room. Emergency staff were preparing for patients expected to come in from the West Bank village of Bir Naballah on Wednesday night, when the suspects, who had accompanied a patient to the hospital, allegedly beat two security guards with clubs and damaged some equipment in the emergency room.


Jewish Agency Plans Fast-Track Conversion for Immigrants from CIS
The Jewish Agency has been developing a quick conversion plan – dubbed Mount Sinai – for non-Jewish immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, HA’ARETZ reported. According to the plan, immigrants on their way to Israel will spend four weeks attending an intensive course that will culminate in a conversion by Orthodox rabbis from Israeli rabbinical courts. The conversion course will take place in an Eastern European country and special panels of rabbis will be flown there from Israel for the occasion. Several well-known rabbis in the Orthodox establishment have agreed in principle to take part.

At this stage, the program is planned for 150-200 new immigrants, but if the plan works, agency officials believe thousands could go through it. Opening the quick conversion route is a dramatic step for the agency, and is meant to help new immigrants bypass the bottleneck in the rabbinical courts in Israel. Despite mounting public pressure, the rabbinical courts have refused to change their policies and still only convert a few hundred people from the former Soviet Union each year. The four-week class will inaugurate a process much faster than the usual six months it takes to convert in Israel.

Three key people are behind the conversion plan: Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor, Prime Minster Ariel Sharon, and Yaacov Neeman, head of a commission set up to study the issue of conversions.

During the first wave of Soviet immigrants in the 1970s, a similar plan was tried, using Israeli rabbis overseas to convert new immigrants. That program was only partially successful as many of the conversations were not recognized by the Orthodox establishment in Israel who judged the rabbis involved in the process as not authoritative enough. To avoid the same scenario from happening, the agency decided this time to work with rabbis whose authority is well established. Their identities are being kept secret for now in order to prevent the chief rabbinate from applying pressure on them.


Moody’s Reaffirms Israel’s Currency Ceilings
Analysts for ratings agency Moody’s left Israel’s sovereign rating at A2 in an optimistic report on the Israeli economy published today, GLOBES reported. "The aggravated geopolitical variable is already factored into the ratings, which otherwise would be much higher," Moody’s Vice President Jonathan Schiffer, author of the report, said. "Current events notwithstanding, the outlooks for all Israeli ratings are stable, given the current regional military balance and the strong external financial support that would be available in a crisis from the Jewish Diaspora and from the US government."

Moody’s report notes that the stable outlook is the result of the willingness of current and recent Israeli governments to trim fiscal expenditures and budget deficits in order to maintain macroeconomic stability. It anticipates that the recently re-elected coalition government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will build on last year’s tax reform and continue a proactive approach to structural reform of fiscal expenditures in order to compensate for challenges on the revenue side. Israel’s liquidity position has not deteriorated, and the government can service the rising domestic debt of recent years without difficulty. Schiffer said that events in Iraq would almost certainly have an impact on Israeli politics and the economy. "A war will prolong economic hardships in Israel but the country would ultimately benefit from normalization of relations with Iraq," he said.


Other News in Brief

* Minister of Interior Avraham Poraz decided on Wednesday that city hall elections for Jerusalem, Haifa and Or Akiva, which lost their mayors to the Knesset in January’s general election, would be held on June 3, HA’ARETZ reported. Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna quit the Haifa mayoralty, Minister of Industry Ehud Olmert quit Jerusalem’s and Likud MK Ya’acov Edri left Or Akiva’s. The law prevents Knesset members from serving as mayors, and it is up to the Minister of Interior to set election dates for a city race if a mayor quits before the end of his term. Until the city elections, the former mayor’s deputy serves in his place.

* For the first time since the beginning of Palestinian violence in September 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to include rescue workers from Zaka, (Israel’s rescue and recovery organization), and the Fire Department, in Israel’s public relations efforts, YEDIOT AHARONOT reported. The Ministry invited some 60 firefighters and Zaka officers to its media training seminars. After the bus bombing attack in Haifa on Wednesday, Head of the Haifa Fire Department Moshe Ribak and Zaka volunteer Yitzhak Jacques were interviewed by television networks CNN, FOX, ABC and NBC. The Foreign Ministry said given the positive response, rescue workers will continue to also serve as speakers. Public surveys in the United States and Europe revealed that rescue workers, and especially fire fighters, are considered the most reliable and authentic speakers, perhaps even more so than other uniformed individuals.


Economic Briefs

* Exports in the jewelry sector rose 22.5 percent in 2002 to $400 million, HA’ARETZ reported. Exports of gold jewelry totaled $360 million, while silver accounted for $40 million. Exports to the United States were 70 percent of the total; Europe – primarily Britain, Germany, Switzerland and France – 20 percent; Asia – mostly Hong Kong and Thailand – 5 percent; with the remaining 5 percent going to the rest of the world.