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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. AL-AQ’SA TERRORIST ORGANIZATION BACKS ‘ABBAS FOR P.A. CHAIRMAN… Mahmoud ‘Abbas has received another endorsement in his campaign to succeed Yassir Arafat as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. On Sunday, Arafat’s Al-Aq’sa Martyrs Brigades, a group that has claimed responsibility for numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians, threw its support behind the PLO chief. The group was backing Marwan Barghouthi, one of its leaders who is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for terrorist murders. But over the weekend Barghouthi took his name out of the running and ‘Abbas said he would appoint him as his deputy when he wins the January 9th election. Al-Aq’sa is a branch of Fatah which on Thursday named ‘Abbas as its only candidate.

2. HAMAS LEADER SPEAKS TO ISRAEL RADIO; HINTS AT ‘HUDNA’… Sheikh Hasan Yusef, a senior official of the Hamas terrorist organization, spoke to Israel Radio and hinted that his group would consider a ten-year “hudna” [a unilateral cease-fire that can be broken at any time] while negotiations with Israel are pursued. Yusef expressed interest in moving into the political sphere by joining a unity government comprised of the various Palestinian factions. He used the occasion to call upon Israel and the international community to recognize that Hamas has “matured” and asked that it no longer be referred to as a terrorist organization.

3. IRAN RECANTS NUCLEAR STANCE; WASHINGTON DOESN’T BELIEVE IT… Iran has recanted its demand to continue its uranium enrichment program. The decision salvages a deal it made with France, Germany and the United Kingdom and will prevent the issue of the Iranian nuclear program from being referred to the United Nations where it faced possible sanctions. An agreement had been reached on November 15th, in which Iran would freeze all of its uranium enrichment, conversion and reprocessing activities. In return, Iran would receive a series of unknown incentives from the Europeans. But the Iranian insistence that it retain several centrifuges used for uranium enrichment had threatened the deal which had to close prior to Monday’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to prevent passage of a strong resolution and U.N. involvement. The IAEA is now expected to certify that Iran has frozen its nuclear program as defined by the European agreement. The United States, however, believes that notwithstanding the Iranian pledge, it is continuing clandestine work on enrichment that can be used for peaceful applications or for the construction of nuclear weapons.

4. SHARON AGAIN FACING GOVERNMENT CRISIS; THREATENS TO FIRE COALITION PARTNER… Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is again facing a governmental crisis as he tries to pass the 2005 budget before the statutory deadline. While his opponents see an opportunity to bring about early elections, Sharon has made it clear that he will push a majority through – a position he hopes will be reinforced by his threat to fire any minister who votes against the budget. The alternative is to call for early elections. The vote was postponed from Monday to Wednesday in fear of impending defeat. Sharon’s political opponents on the left have made the Gaza withdrawal the utmost priority and are willing to provide a legislative safety net in order to keep the government together to execute the pullout. But to the fiercely secular Shinui party, the funding Sharon has offered to religious parties in return for their support is a far more serious issue and it has threatened to vote against the prime minister if he keeps his promise to them. Sharon countered with a threat to fire them. Shinui favors bringing opposition Labor into the government, but Sharon’s Likud party has nixed the idea. One possible endgame is a government with Shinui being replaced by the religious parties they detest. Push may come to shove if Sharon loses a no-confidence vote on Monday that was submitted by the Labor Party. A loss could set in-motion the inevitability of new elections.

5. ISRAELIS ON EVOLUTION: GOD WINS 42-31… The Israeli edition of National Geographic magazine commissioned a poll to determine how Israelis view evolution. The results: More than 42% of Israelis believe God created man while 31% believe that man was the product of evolution. The poll was divided into secular, traditional and religious sectors. Not surprisingly, it showed that 55% of secular Jews believe in the process of evolution, while only 10% of traditionalists and only 1% of religious Jews do. 18% of Israelis have never heard of Charles Darwin or his theory of evolution.