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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. ISRAEL PRESSES THE CASE AGAINST SYRIA IN AFTERMATH OF FRIDAY’S TERRORIST BOMBING… Although Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not mincing words in demanding that there is no substitute for newly-elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, the majority of Israel’s anger over Friday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv remains aimed at Damascus. Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom and military intelligence chief Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash on Monday will present what Israel calls “evidence” that the suicide bombing was carried out by Damascus-based Islamic Jihad. A senior army officer will make similar presentations in London, Paris and Washington. The death toll rose to five when a woman died of her wounds on Monday morning. Twenty-two remain hospitalized.

2. SYRIA BELIEVED TO HAVE ‘COUGHED-UP’ SADDAM BROTHER, BOWING TO PRESSURE… While Israel is making its case against Syria, Damascus is on the receiving end of credit for handing over Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, one of the fugitives most wanted by the American-led coalition. Although Iraqi officials will not go on record confirming the account, anonymous officials have told news agencies that the arrest of Sab’awi Ibrahim Al-Hasan A-Tikriti came as the result of Syria “handing him over” in the face of growing international pressure. A-Tikriti is believed to be the chief funder and planner of the post-war insurgency. He headed Saddam’s intelligence services during the 1991 Gulf War, and then served as chief of general security until 1996 before becoming a key adviser to Saddam.

3. DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO TERROR BOMBING FROM ‘ABBAS, QUREI’… Analysts are noting a marked difference in responses to Friday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv on the part of the two leading figures in the Palestinian Authority. A suicide bomber killed five and wounded at least fifty outside an oceanfront café. Mahmoud ‘Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and the elected successor to Yassir Arafat, has been talking tough and has issued condemnations of the attack. He was quoted on Sunday as telling his security chiefs to bring him those responsible or be prepared to resign. On Monday, he told the British newspaper The Independent that “the Palestinians are ready to reach a long and lasting peace with Israel.” But Ahmad Qurei’, the prime minister who succeeded ‘Abbas into that office, has taken a much less sympathetic approach. Qurei’ was quoted by the Hebrew daily Haaretz as saying in response to Ariel Sharon’s threat to freeze the diplomatic process, “If Israel wants to halt contacts with the Palestinians, it is free to do so. That’s their affair. What do they expect from us in a case like this – that we shed tears?”

4. ECONOMIST: ISRAEL’S RISK RATING IMPROVED IN 2004… Israel’s credit risk rating significantly improved in 2005 according to Britain’s The Economist magazine. It placed Israel 9th out of 27 “emerging markets for country risk.” The Economist’s country risk rating weighs 77 political, diplomatic, security, and economic indicators, including inflation, interest rates, price stability, financial system stability, foreign currency activity, and balance of payments deficit, according to Globes financial newspaper. Israel was found to be a safer risk than Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, India, China, Brazil and Peru. It tied with Poland.