1. IRANIAN TERROR GROUP CLAIMS 400+ NEW SUICIDE BOMBER RECRUITS… An Iranian-based terror organization claimed on Wednesday that it had signed up more than 400 new recruits to become suicide bombers against American and Israeli targets. The announcement was made by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement during a ceremony it staged that was attended by Mahdi Rahimian, the head of the Martyr’s Foundation and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, both considered to be tied to the Iranian government and run by loyalists of Iranian leader Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamanai. A spokesman for the group said that the majority of the volunteers are women. He also claimed that the organization’s members have carried out attacks inside of Israel, but the group is not among those that have claimed responsibility for attacks until now.
2. SYRIA GAGS THE AMERICAN-SUPPORTED TELEVISION STATION… The American-funded Al-Hurra television network has cancelled the remaining installments of a multi-part series dealing with political reform. The program that did air dealt with censorship of the media. A spokesman for Al-Hurra said the cancellation was because of “pressure concerning the choice of people invited to take part in the discussions and in view of the absence of cooperation.” The Syrian Ministry of Information denied Al-Hurra’s charges, a spokesman referring to the first program, saying that “all the help was extended” to the channel. In fact, the spokesman said, the program was proof of “the climate of openness and freedom” in Syria. The exchange took place on the same day that a human rights activist was arrested in the city of Al-Hamma. No details were given.
3. PALESTINIANS PASS ELECTION LAW PAVING WAY FOR JULY 17 BALLOTING… The Palestinian Legislative Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to the electoral law that will enable legislative elections in the Palestinian Authority on July 17. Amendments and changes may now be submitted prior to the final reading of the bill. The legislation, which sets up a system that combines electoral district representation for two-thirds of the legislators and general election for the remaining third, is opposed by P.A. Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas. He wants a system in which all legislators face election by the entire voting public. ‘Abbas also favors postponing the election until the fall, believing that if the vote is held after the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip, Fatah can take credit and defeat Hamas. Palestinian pundits are predicting that ‘Abbas’s ruling Fatah party will be badly beaten by the Hamas terrorist organization which will be participating in the election for the first time. Fatah is seen by many Palestinians as being responsible for widespread official corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
4. CARGO SHIP BOUND FOR SYRIA FROM EGYPT SINKS OFF ISRAELI COAST… A cargo ship bound for Syria from Egypt capsized and sank in international waters off the Israeli coast on Wednesday. The vessel was carrying cement. A search for four missing crewmen was carried out by Israeli, American and French vessels that rushed to the scene of the accident after Israel received a distress signal. Three crewmen were rescued.
5. ISRAEL SHOWS FIRST SIGNS OF GAZA EVACUATION… Thirty shipping containers said to be carrying furniture, computers, weapons and uniforms were loaded on to flatbed trucks and removed from an Israeli military base in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. It was the first tangible sign of Israeli intentions to evacuate its military and civilian presence from Gaza. The actual withdrawal was set to take place on July 20, but Prime Minister Sharon is expected to announce momentarily whether the pullout will be delayed until August 15 in order to permit observance of a religious custom. Sharon was quoted as saying that he expects looting of the evacuated communities by Palestinians once the Israelis are gone. Ahmad Qurei’ chided Sharon who is the target of criticism for not being nearly ready to relocate as many as 8,500 citizens. The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister was quoted as claiming, “We’re better prepared than Sharon for the evacuation.”