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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. ISRAEL TO DEAL WITH GAZA SMUGGLING: ELITE FORCES TO BE DEPLOYED… Israel will deploy elite forces along the Egypt–Gaza border in an effort to stem above-ground smuggling of weapons. The troops will patrol from the Palestinian border town of Rafah southward toward the Israeli port city of Eilat. Israeli military sources have admitted that the army has had little success in preventing what was termed “huge quantities of arms” from reaching Palestinian terrorist organizations both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. The Israeli army claims that Palestinians are not only bringing in assault rifles, but anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and high-grade explosives as well. The Israelis claim the weapons have already made their way to the cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah.

2. LAST SYRIAN TROOPS EXIT LEBANON… Syrian troops are marking the removal from Lebanon of their army’s last soldiers with a ceremony in the Beqaa Valley on Tuesday. The Syrian presence began during the Lebanese civil war of 1976 and remained until domestic pressure and insistence by the international community, including a United Nations Security Council resolution, forced the current withdrawal. The turning point came with the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in February – an act widely believed to have been orchestrated by Syria. Damascus denies any involvement in the murder. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has dispatched a team of investigators to determine whether all Syrian personnel, including intelligence agents, have been withdrawn from Lebanon.

3. NEXT ON THE RANCH – SAUDI CROWN PRINCE ‘ABDALLAH… U.S. President George W. Bush hosted Saudi Crown Prince ‘Abdallah at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Monday. Although the price of oil, terror and the Middle East peace process were said to top the agenda for the first meeting in three years between the two leaders, it was oil that clearly dominated that talks. President Bush urged the Saudi prince to significantly increase oil production in order to lower prices – an issue seen as harming the President’s popularity. The Saudi leader countered by saying that the issue is “not really one of crude oil production. The issue is one of product-refining and distribution.” Bush also pressed for Saudi democratization and discussed Saudi Arabia’s internal war against terror. Two weeks ago the President hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also at his ranch.

4. U.S. INVESTIGATORS FIND NO EVIDENCE OF IRAQI WMDs IN SYRIA… American investigators have found no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were hidden in Syria as many security experts believe. But while the probe found no “official” movement of banned materials, investigators say they are “unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials” because of “the insular nature of Saddam Hussein’s government.” Also according to the report, Hussein “retained the intent and capability and he intended to resume full-scale WMD efforts once the U.N. sanctions were lifted.”

5. PALESTINIANS PRESENT AMERICANS WITH DEMAND FOR FREE MOVEMENT, CONTROL OF CROSSINGS AND BORDERS… Palestinian negotiators presented U.S. envoys Steven Hadley and Elliott Abrams with a document demanding free passage of Palestinians within the West Bank and Palestinian control of crossing points and borders when the Americans visited the region last week. A copy obtained by the Associated Press reveals a demand for “full … sovereignty over the land borders, regional waters and air space of these areas, including securing an international presence.” The Palestinians have been pressing their contention that Israel will remain an occupying force in Gaza unless it relinquishes control of air and sea ports and border crossings, and even if it does so, unless it evacuates the West Bank it will nevertheless remain an occupying force. Israeli leaders have indicated that the nation wants to be free of the responsibilities of an occupying power once it has pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian leaders have issued a thinly veiled threat that the Palestinian Authority will not cooperate in this summer’s withdrawal unless its demands are met. Ariel Sharon’s original justification to the Israeli people for the Gaza withdrawal included a promise of retaining control of the Philadelphi strip (a narrow corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip), air and sea ports and border crossings. An analyst for The Media Line points out that those promises appear to have come full-circle and Sharon’s original promises to his constituents are now being used by the Palestinians as leverage in negotiations with Israel.