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Israeline — Monday, March 17, 2003 —

** Qassam Rockets Fired at Israeli Towns – IDF Continues Counter-Terror Operations
** Purim Celebrated Despite Serious Security Threats
** Home Front Command to Tell Israelis to Buy all Materials for Sealed Rooms
** Netanyahu Presents Economic Plan
** Technion Twins Solve Face Recognition Puzzle
** Economic Briefs


Qassam Rockets Fired at Israeli Towns – IDF Continues Counter-Terror Operations
Five Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza at Sderot and other towns in the western Negev this afternoon, HA’ARETZ reported. One of the rockets hit a bus in Sderot, causing no injuries.

Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces tanks and armored vehicles, backed up by assault helicopters, entered the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza overnight in an attempt to arrest wanted terrorists and destroy their homes. Palestinian gunmen engaged the Israeli troops in a gun battle and an Islamic Jihad leader, Mohammed Saafen, was shot and killed after he began shooting and throwing grenades at soldiers. In a separate operation this morning, two armed Palestinians were killed and at least six people were injured in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, as IDF forces rounded up residents for questioning. In all, 9 Palestinians were reportedly killed during the operation.

On Sunday, an American woman, Rachel Corrie, 23, of Olympia, Washington was killed by an IDF bulldozer as she was trying to stop the razing of a building in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The IDF expressed its regrets over the death and indicated it had repeatedly asked the demonstrators to evacuate the area before the accident occurred. The bulldozers were taking part in a tunnel-and-mine-clearing operation in the Rafah refugee camp. Palestinian terrorists have used these tunnels to smuggle weapons and explosives. According to the interim peace accords, Israel has the right to operate in the area located near the Egyptian border.


Purim Celebrated Despite Serious Security Threats
Despite high security threats, Purim was celebrated around the country without incidents, MA’ARIV reported. A complete closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip went into effect on Sunday in an attempt to fend off terror attacks. Although the police stressed there were no specific alerts, there was concern a homicide bomber might try to blend into a crowd wearing a costume as is customary during the holiday.

Some 5,000 people showed up for the traditional Ad-lo-yada Purim procession in Kiryat Shmona on Sunday, one day after an anti-aircraft missile launched by Hizbullah forces in southern Lebanon landed in the city’s main street. The missile did not detonate and no one was injured in the attack. Kiryat Shmona Mayor Haim Barbevai said that the Purim celebrations would continue and declared that the city "won’t give in to Hizbullah’s attempts to disrupt our lives." "Holding the Ad-lo-yada is our answer to the anti-aircraft fire," he added.

According to YEDIOT AHARONOT, students at Haifa’s Reali High School, which lost two of its eighth grade students – Abigail Leitel and Yuval Mendelevitch – in a bus bombing in Haifa on March 5, decided to hold their Purim celebration despite the mourning at the school. The school’s principal Dr. Tzvika Rieter said, "the students expressed their will not to cancel the celebrations regardless of the heavy mourning." "It was decided that everyone will wear costumes but that everything will be done in a modest way," she added.


Home Front Command to Tell Israelis to Buy all Materials for Sealed Rooms
The Home Front Command is expected to advise Israelis on Tuesday to stock up on all the materials needed to seal a room in their homes against potential biological or chemical attack, ahead of a possible U.S. strike on Iraq, HA’ARETZ reported. The army was expected to make the announcement this evening, but Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz said this afternoon that no new civil defense orders would be issued until after Bush’s speech. The predominant view in the defense establishment at present, is that the assault on Iraq will begin before the weekend.

Preparations are also underway for the limited call-up of reserve soldiers in Home Command, anti-aircraft and intelligence units.


Netanyahu Presents Economic Plan
Presenting his economic austerity plan at a press conference in Jerusalem this afternoon, Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had an approximate $6.25 billion deficit, HA’ARETZ reported. Netanyahu pointed to what he said was Israel’s bloated public sector, saying that his plan intended to "reduce the size of the public sector, and increase the size of the private sector."

According to the austerity plan, the average public sector wage will be reduced by 8 percent.

Senior public sector figures will face a greater reduction of 20 percent. Those currently earning between the minimum and average wage will face a 6.5 percent reduction in their salaries. The public sector cuts are expected to save some $0.7 billion annually. The highest rate of taxation will be reduced to 49 percent by July 2005. The one element of the program that is expected to increase rather than decrease the ordinary Israeli’s disposable income is an acceleration of the tax reform plan that took effect at the beginning of this year. Under this plan, income taxes were supposed to be gradually reduced starting on January 1, 2005. Netanyahu proposes beginning the tax cuts on July 1, 2003 instead, but spreading them out over a longer period.


Technion Twins Solve Face Recognition Puzzle
Identical twins at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa – 22 year-olds Michael and Alex Bronstein – have applied a new technology to facial recognition that will revolutionize international security and help fight global terrorism, ISRAEL21C reported. The twins’ work involves recording facial surface geometry which is not influenced by head position or lighting – two elements which up until now were the biggest weaknesses of facial recognition technology.

The twins constructed a 3-D scanner and applied the "bending invariant canonical representation" algorithm developed by their "Numerical Geometry of Images" Professor Ron Kimmel to perfect the facial recognition technology pioneered by the Technion. Professor Kimmel jokingly probed the twins to put their machine to the test asking whether the algorithm could differentiate between the two of them. The latest versions of the algorithm used in recent experiments showed not even a single false match. The twins have registered their invention for patent in the US, and want to market it as a commercial product for airports, border crossings, security zones, and teller machines. Since the September 11 attacks, the market for biometric technologies, including software, hardware and services has expanded and is expected to grow by another 35.2 percent this year alone. The twins system could be employed at airports or border crossings where a 3-D security camera could scan passengers’ faces and compare them with a database of three-dimensional pictures of suspected criminals or terrorists.


Economic Briefs

* Nice Systems announced that Newgen Results from California has selected the NiceUniverse digital recording solution to enhance customer care, GLOBES reported. The value of the agreement was not disclosed. Newgen Results is a customer management solutions provider for more than 7,000 automotive dealerships in the U.S. The quality-assurance and recording systems are fully integrated, and enable Newgen to record both on-site and remote-based customer service representatives.

* Israeli pharmaceuticals firm Agis Industries reported a 13 percent jump in revenues and a 198 percent leap in profits in 2002, GLOBES reported. Agis expects its profit to continue growing in the first quarter of 2003, compared with the corresponding quarter in 2002. The company also expects it will receive more authorizations to market new products in 2003.

Israeline — Tuesday, March 18, 2003 —

Hamas Terrorists Killed by IDF; Soldier Dies of Wounds
Israel Braces for War; IDF Calls Up Reserves
FM Shalom: Hizbullah and Iran Behind Buenos Aires Bombings
PLC Rejects Arafat’s Amendments to PM Law
Hebrew U Scientists Fight Fungi


Hamas Terrorists Killed by IDF; Soldier Dies of Wounds
Israel Defense Forces soldier Sergeant Major (res.) Ami Cohen was killed and another soldier was lightly wounded in a pre-dawn gun battle in the West Bank village of Marah Rabah south of Bethlehem, HA’ARETZ reported. Ami Cohen, a 27-year-old reservist from Netanya, suffered critical wounds and died after he was taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

Senior Hamas member Ali Alan was killed in the gun battle. Alan was the head of Hamas’ military wing in the southern West Bank and had been on the IDF most wanted list for several months. Alan was responsible for more than 50 Israeli deaths, including the most recent bus bombing in Haifa, and other attacks in Jerusalem. Military sources have said that Alan’s death leaves only a few of the organization’s members still at large.

Hours later, IDF troops killed Nasser Assida, a Hamas member responsible for the killing of some 25 Israelis, in an operation carried out west of Nablus. Overnight, the IDF arrested eight Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, a number of them wanted by Israeli authorities.


Israel Braces for War; IDF Calls Up Reserves
The Israel Defense Forces called up hundreds of reservists serving in anti-aircraft and rescue units today in anticipation of a U.S. military offensive against Iraq, IDF Radio reported. In addition, the Home Front Command asked the public to complete all preparations for sealing rooms, bomb shelters, and protected spaces. "We are at a high level of preparation," the IDF spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, said. "However, people should act normally and celebrate the Purim holiday." Yaron added that the probability that Israel would be attacked by Iraq remained low, "but the military is prepared for any type of scenario."

Meanwhile, news media sources informed the public today on preparations and procedures in case of an attack from Iraq. The Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot published a large graphic on the front page showing how a room should be sealed and equipped. It also included a "How to get through the war safely" supplement with articles on war stress and details on government compensation for Scud damage. Israel’s Channel 10 devoted a morning program to explanations on what food to bring into the sealed room and Channel 33 aired a tutorial guide on emergency procedures.


FM Shalom: Hizbullah and Iran Behind Buenos Aires Bombings
Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom said on Monday that Iran and Hizbullah were responsible for the terrorist attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires 11 years ago in which 29 people were killed, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. "Today we can say with great satisfaction that in the last few months the Israeli security services have been able to solve the mystery, and it is clear to Israel today that Hizbullah through its international terrorist apparatus carried out the murderous terror attack," Shalom said. Shalom added that Israel established that high-level Iranian government officials knew about the bombing plan and approved it. Shalom said Israel has recently also been able to link Hizbullah and Iran to the bombing at the Jewish community’s offices in Buenos Aires two years later that killed 85 people. Shalom added that Israel expects Argentina "to bring all the accused, from Iran, Lebanon, and from Argentina itself, to justice," and that Israel is willing to lend Argentina all the assistance needed to prosecute the men.


PLC Rejects Arafat’s Amendments to PM Law
Palestinian legislators rejected an amended bill requiring the future prime minister to seek Arafat’s consent for the appointment of cabinet ministers on Monday, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. Many legislators lashed out at Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, accusing him of trying to undermine the newly created post of prime minister. In a show of hands, legislators voted 49 to 22 against the amendment to the prime minister’s bill, one of several changes proposed by Arafat. They are expected to meet again in Ramallah on today to try to reach a compromise that would satisfy both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, who has been offered the job.


Hebrew U Scientists Fight Fungi
A biological process using three different types of fungi to control common plant diseases and mite pests has been developed by researchers at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences in Rehovot, ISRAEL21C reported. Use of these fungi enables crops to overcome such plant diseases and pests without having to apply environmentally-polluting chemicals and have been effective in controlling plant mites and powdery mildew diseases, which cause widespread damage to field crops, flowers and fruit trees.

According to Hebrew U team member professor Abraham Sztejnberg, despite the billions of dollars that are spent annually in developed countries for controlling mites and powdery mildews with chemical pesticides, the agents have developed resistance to the pesticides and hurt the environment. A patent has been applied for through the Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University, and business contacts have been made with a view to commercialization.

Israeline — Wednesday, March 19, 2003 —

** Israeli Killed in Ambush Near Jenin
** PM Sharon: Iraqi Attack Unlikely, but Israel Is 100 Percent Prepared
** Livnat: Schools to Reopen After Purim as Usual
** Abu Mazen Named Palestinian Prime Minister
** Wealth of Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts Uncovered in Northeastern Spain
** Other News in Brief
** Economic Briefs


Israeli Killed in Ambush Near Jenin
An Israeli man was shot and killed this afternoon between the West Bank communities of Mevo Dotan and Shaked, near the city of Jenin, HA’ARETZ reported. The man was driving in his car when it was ambushed by Palestinian gunmen. Rescue workers who arrived at the scene administered first aid to the man, who was shot in the head and later died of his wounds. Security forces in the area are carrying out searches for the terrorists who carried out the attack. The Israel Defense Forces said that the man was driving alone in his vehicle, in violation of army orders that require civilian vehicles to have a military escort.

PM Sharon: Iraqi Attack Unlikely, but Israel Is 100 Percent Prepared

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the cabinet today that the likelihood Iraq would attack Israel in response to an American offensive was "very small" but that Israel had taken "all necessary precautions," THE JERUSALEM POST reported.

"If we assume that the chance of being hit is one in a hundred, our preparations provide a response to 100 percent of the dangers," Sharon said. "All the relevant bodies have invested considerable effort in this."

Sharon informed the cabinet that he had contacted U.S. President George W. Bush and "wished him success" in the planned offensive against Iraq. "The war that will be waged is not a war in which we are involved," Sharon said. "We see the need to continue with daily life as much as possible and I hope that we will be able to do so," Sharon added. "It is very important that the population remains calm and that it act in accordance with the instructions that have already been given and which have yet to be given. The more that we carry on quietly, the better we will be able to deal with the situation." Also, Israel Defense Forces soldiers were ordered to carry around gas masks and 11,000 reservists from anti-aircraft and Home Front Command units have been called up. The general public was told not to open up chemical warfare protection kits, pending further notification.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer briefed Sharon and President Moshe Katsav today in anticipation of the US offensive. Kurtzer said the United States was working closely with Israel to minimize the risk of a Scud missile or any other form of attack from Iraq.

In other news, Hizbullah has reportedly deployed Katyusha rockets along the Lebanese-Israeli border fearing that Israel might use the opportunity of a war with Iraq to launch a military strike into Lebanon. On Tuesday night, Hizbullah fired several anti-aircraft shells over the Israel-Lebanon border, causing no injuries or damage.


Livnat: Schools to Reopen After Purim as Usual
Minister of Education Limor Livnat announced on Tuesday that schools throughout the country would reopen as scheduled on Thursday, following the three-day Purim holiday vacation, MA’ARIV reported. Livnat added that the Ministry was constantly monitoring the situation in Iraq as a U.S offensive appeared imminent. "Unless another announcement is issued, the decision to reopen schools stands, even if the [U.S.-led] offensive has begun," she said. "We have our hand on the pulse and we will instruct the system in accordance with the change in defense officials’ assessments. There is no use in taking apart the country and instructing children to stay home. The right thing for the children is to be within their regular educational framework," Livnat added.

She assured that "the education system has been prepared for a few months now."

The Ministry of Education instructed schools and kindergartens to seal classrooms and shelters and equip them with emergency supplies. A special hotline, manned by ministry officials, was set up for teachers and students in each region.

Meanwhile, hundreds of families have reportedly left their houses in the center of the country and moved to stay in hotels or with family in the northern part of the country, in Jerusalem and in Eilat.


Abu Mazen Named Palestinian Prime Minister
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat appointed his longtime deputy Mahmoud Abbas as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. The appointment marks the first time that Arafat has agreed to share power. Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, was sent a letter asking him to form a new cabinet. The position of Palestinian prime minister was created following intense international pressure on Arafat to begin handing over the reins of power after 30 months of violence. Abbas will be able to appoint cabinet members, call its meetings into session and oversee its operation. Arafat will remain in control of the security apparatuses and the "Palestinian leadership," including the cabinet, Palestine Liberation Organization leaders and security commanders. In addition, it is Arafat who will have the final say in any peace negotiations with Israel. United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said "we will have to see now whether the prime minister has the kind of authority that we can view as authority."


Wealth of Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts Uncovered in Northeastern Spain
A Spanish historical archive has found what may constitute the largest collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts in Europe by discovering fragments of medieval texts stuffed inside the covers of books, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. Josep Matas, director of the Provincial Historic Archive of the northeastern town of Girona said, "it’s too early to say just yet as we’re not sure how many there are but it could be the most important in Europe." Girona – the town where the documents were found – was one of the most important Jewish population centers in Spain prior to the expulsion of all non-Catholics in 1492 by the Catholic kings Isabel and Ferdinand.

Matas believes the town once had some 700 Jews. Matas said the first manuscript fragment was found several years ago but archive personnel thought it was a one-off discovery. He said recent investigations unveiled up to a thousand document fragments hidden in the covers of books and the archive believes there could be many more. The books, mostly Girona provincial notarial works, are important in themselves but the material in their covers could be of much greater historical value, he added. Matas said the fragments studied and restored so far included texts from the Book of Genesis and the Torah as well as marriage and business contracts. The Hebrew documents are most likely remnants of what Jewish families left behind when they fled.


Other News in Brief

* President Moshe Katsav confirmed today that he secretly met last Thursday in Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Hani al-Hassan in a bid to explore a possible cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, HA’ARETZ reported. The meeting was approved by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Katsav has been attempting for some time to advance a proposal for a hudna (truce) consisting of a year-long cease-fire to pave the way for a return to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

* The increase in flow in northern rivers was almost unprecedented this year according to data compiled by the Ministry of National Infrastructure, HA’ARETZ reported. Water flow in the upper part of the Jordan River was 71.2 cubic meters per second at the beginning of the month, 3.6 times higher than at the same time last year. The heavy rain in the north also contributed to a substantial increase in the Banias and Dan Rivers, which feed the Jordan. At the beginning of this month, flow in the Dan River was 10.24 cubic meters per second – 30 percent more than at the same time last year; flow in the Banias River reached 5.43 cubic meters per second – a 50-percent increase compared to last year. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) gained 450 million cubic meters this winter, although it is still 400 million cubic meters below its maximum level.


Economic Briefs

* Israel’s stock market rallied as the uncertainty surrounding Iraq faded and government plans to cut the budget deficit continue to progress, GLOBES reported. The Tel Aviv 25 index was up 4 percent at 346.5 points, the Tel Aviv 100 index rose 3.6 percent to 348.47 points and the Tel Tech 15 index gained 2.3 percent to reach 180 points. Overall turnover was high at $62.5 million. Following forecasts of a swift war in Iraq and reports that Israel is unlikely to be struck by Iraqi missiles, Israel’s shekel rose as well, advancing 1.5percent on the dollar and 3.5percent against the euro. On the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Agis Industries gained 6.4 percent, Bezeq was up 5 percent, Partner Communications rose 5.6 percent and Teva jumped 2.5 percent. In the banking sector, Bank Hapoalim soared 5 percent, Bank Leumi advanced 4.4 percent and Israel Discount Bank was up 2.2 percent.

* The Ministry of Finance stands by its original 1 percent growth target for 2003, GLOBES reported. Two days after unveiling its emergency economic plan, the ministry published updated forecasts based on recent economic developments in Israel. Ministry economists said output had been stable in 2002, and economic activity improved slightly in the fourth quarter. However, external shocks, the global slowdown, the high-tech and tourism crises, the security situation and the drop in private consumption were hindering renewed growth.

* A group of foreign investors has expressed interest in investing $30 million in a factory to manufacture Atomic Biological Chemical (ABC) masks, and another plant to produce thin ceramic flak jackets, GLOBES reported. The plants will be set up in the Sagi 2000 Industrial Zone in Migdal HaEmek. The group, headed by businessman Arie Britman, has reached the advanced planning stages, and has begun to recruit personnel for the plants. Construction is slated for completion in 2004. The company spokesman Britman estimated the plants would employ 400 workers.

Israeline — Friday, March 21, 2003 —


** U.S. Troops Seize Airfields in Western Iraq – IDF Believes Iraqi Threat Remains Low
** Palestinians Cheering for Saddam Clash with Police in Jerusalem
** Palestinian Responsible for Dolphinarium Attack Arrested in West Bank
** Netanyahu: Success in War against Iraq will Help Economy
** Belgium’s Foreign Minister Michel Opposes Trying Foreign Leaders
** Economic Briefs


U.S. Troops Seize Airfields in Western Iraq – IDF Believes Iraqi Threat Remains Low
American forces seized important airfields in western Iraq where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is believed to have Scud missiles capable of reaching Israel, HA’ARETZ reported. Meanwhile, security sources indicated that the chances that Israel would come under direct attack from Iraq remained very limited. The assessment is that Hussein is not interested in exposing whatever supply of Scuds or non-conventional weapons he may possess. Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad said on Thursday on Channel 10 news that "there is a chance that there may be some isolated incidents [of missile firings]" but that Israel was prepared for this scenario. Gilad noted that the intensification of the American offensive against Iraq would be critical for Israel.

The Ministry of Defense is receiving updates from the United States regarding developments and progress on operations in the Gulf.

According to HA’ARETZ, Tel Aviv’s best detectives have been posted on rooftops throughout the city as missile spotters in case of an Iraqi missile attack. They were chosen for the job because of their intimate knowledge of the city. "Their job is to be human eyes in addition to the radar images and other technology that will locate any fallen missile," the commander in charge, Eli Assayag, said. In real time, the spotters are supposed to use binoculars and night vision scopes, to identify a missile’s location and help guide rescue forces to the scene. They have been posted so they overlap each other’s zone, thus blanketing the entire Dan region, Assayag said.


Palestinians Cheering for Saddam Clash with Police in Jerusalem
Palestinians rallying in support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein clashed with Israeli riot police in Jerusalem this morning, HA’ARETZ reported. Palestinians began chanting pro-Iraqi slogans at the conclusion of their morning prayers in the Old City, and then rushed towards the Damascus Gate where they fought with police and blocked traffic.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians waved Iraqi and Palestinian flags, held posters of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat aloft and chanted "death to America" and asked Iraq to "burn Tel Aviv." American flags were burned and demonstrators in Gaza shouted, "we will sacrifice our souls and blood for Saddam."

Hamas senior leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi urged Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks against American and British soldiers in Iraq. "Iraqis should prepare explosive belts and send martyrs to combat the US occupiers," he declared.

Meanwhile, the pro-Iraq Arab Liberation Front distributed $10,000 checks from Saddam Hussein to 21 families of Palestinian terrorists. Since the violence began 30 months ago, Iraq has sent more than $35 million to the families of terrorists killed while attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers.


Palestinian Responsible for Dolphinarium Attack Arrested in West Bank
A team of elite Israel Defense Forces commandos raided a home in the West Bank town of Qalqilya and arrested Raed Hutri, the leader of the Hamas terrorists operating in that region, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. Hutri, implicated in numerous terror attacks, planned the homicide bombing at the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv that left 22 Israeli civilians – most of them teenagers – dead on June 1, 2001. In addition, the IDF arrested 12 other terrorists in the West Bank, including seven in Nablus.


Netanyahu: Success in War against Iraq will Help Economy
Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu, who unveiled his economic program for 2003 on Monday, declared that the economic situation would improve as the result of a successful offensive against Iraq, HA’ARETZ reported. Netanyahu has been attempting to gain support for his plan with cabinet ministers, Members of Knesset, the Histadrut and the public, stressing one simple message: The economy has been on a one-way trip downhill for the past several months, but the decline has been halted since the new government assumed power and a 180-degree turnabout was attempted.

A few hours before the United States decided to give Israel $9 billion in loan guarantees and $1 billion in defense aid, Netanyahu said that the Americans were favorably impressed by the treasury’s plan. "The Americans saw that the changes in the budget are serious and that we are planning significant economic reforms," he said. He added that the United States was familiar with his record as prime minister and with his economic credo: free market, cuts in government expenditure and privatization.

In terms of negotiating with the Histadrut, Netanyahu claimed there was a certain amount of flexibility in the budget and that not everything would necessarily be implemented immediately and in full. With regard to which principles of the plan he would not concede on, Netanyahu pointed to the magnitude of the budget cut – NIS 9 billion (approximately $1.9 billion) . "We set cost-cutting targets for all the ministries in this spirit. Obviously, we don’t care if the ministers come up with alternative proposals for cuts as long as they behave responsibly," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu indicated he had "created a plan with many incentives for growth in 2003". "If there is growth, tax revenues will rise, and then it is not unreasonable to assume that we will meet the deficit target set by law," he said. "We are also dependent on the results of the war in Iraq. If it creates a tailwind – if the U.S. finishes the battle quickly and there is no mega-terror – our situation will improve. This will give a strong push to the international economy; there will be worldwide growth; and Israel will benefit from this."

With regards to terrorism, Netanyahu said: "It hurts the economy, and our ability to affect this situation is limited. Rapid growth will occur only when the political-security situation changes."


Belgium’s Foreign Minister Michel Opposes Trying Foreign Leaders
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel spoke out today against lawsuits filed in Belgium against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former U.S. President George W. Bush under a disputed human rights law, HA’ARETZ reported. "It’s not up to us, Belgium, to judge these people," he said. The families of victims of an attack on a Baghdad shelter during the U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War filed a complaint this week against George Bush senior, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and former U.S. commander General Norman Schwarzkopf.

The controversial law gives Belgian courts the right to try foreigners for crimes against humanity and genocide, regardless of where they were committed. The highest profile case so far has been a complaint against Sharon for his alleged role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians at refugee camps in Beirut by Israeli-backed Christian militias. Sharon was Israel’s Minister of the Defense at the time. The case brought against Sharon has severely strained relations between Belgium and Israel. "This latest complaint against Bush senior, Powell, Cheney… is absolutely inappropriate. The initial objective of this law was not to arrive at such excesses," Michel said. "It’s true that there is something absolutely provocative … and foolishly moralising to want to try and prosecute people who originate from democratic countries and where the separation of powers exists," he added. On Tuesday, Powell said the case had no merit and that the prosecutions under the law would make it difficult for senior government officials to visit Belgium, host to NATO headquarters and European institutions. Michel said he favored recent initiatives by legislators to place a filter to avoid cases filed for reasons of political propaganda.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry official welcomed Michel’s statement. "It appears to be a welcome change of approach on the part of the Belgian government," the official said.


Economic Briefs

* Gmul and D.I.G. Industries, a subsidiary of Building and Assets Management Mishor Hachof Ltd. (Marlaz), has completed the acquisition of Virginia-based Fas Mart Convenience Stores Inc., for $34.75 million, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. Fas Mart – owned by Southern Acquisition Inc. of Mechanicsville, Virginia – is a privately held chain of 169 gas stations and convenience stores in Delaware, Maryland North Carolina and Virginia.

* Economists see the U.S. administration’s agreement to extend $9 billion in loan guarantees as a positive step in bolstering Israel’s sovereign credit rating, while allowing local companies to raise offerings overseas, THE JERUSALEM POST reported. "These loan guarantees will give Israel a security net, and will boost the confidence in the overall economy," said Gil Bufman, chief economist at Bank Leumi, Israel’s second largest commercial bank. According to Amir Hayek, chief economist at Union Bank (Igud), "The $9 billion in guarantees will ease fears of a credit downgrade, and will solve the problem of overseas capital offerings by Israeli companies."