1. ISRAEL COMMITTED TO LEAVING PHILADELPHI STRIP… In an about-face from Ariel Sharon’s original presentation of the Gaza withdrawal plan, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has confirmed Israel’s intention of leaving the troublesome area known as the ‘Philadelphi strip’ by October. The narrow swatch of land that runs along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has been the location for scores of underground tunnels that have been used to smuggle arms and terrorists to the Palestinian Authority. Accordingly, Sharon originally included Philadelphi along with the airport and seaport as the exceptions to the unilateral pullout made necessary for reasons of security. Since that time, Israel has debated whether it would remain responsible for the Gaza Strip under international law if it retains control of the key points of entry and egress. Some analysts expect Sharon to capitulate on the issues of the airport and seaport as well, but only after he has weathered the stormy issue of the unilateral withdrawal.
2. AMBASSADORS-DESIGNATE TO ISRAEL, EGYPT FACE SENATE COMMITTEE… President Bush’s nominees to become ambassador to Israel and Egypt faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. The President made clear the importance and sensitivities of the region in bypassing political patronage and nominating two career diplomats. Richard H. Jones, who upon confirmation will succeed Daniel Kurtzer in Israel, has served in a number of posts in Arab countries and is fluent in Arabic. He told the Committee that he will not hesitate to speak out against terror attacks and strongly praised what he called Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas’s “courageous leadership.” Jones did, however, reaffirm that the Bush administration disagrees with ‘Abbas’s policy of “co-opting terrorists” into his security forces rather than “challenging them head-on.” Francis J. Ricciardone told the committee that the administration will work to push Egypt toward “world standards of democratic governance.” He called for elections in which candidates from “law-abiding parties” are free to campaign, have access to media and the right of assembly free from intimidation.
3. MUSLIM SCHOLAR GROUP TO ISSUE FATWA AGAINST TERROR… An American-based organization of Muslim scholars is issuing a formal ruling, or fatwa, condemning terrorism and forbidding Muslims from cooperating in any way with those who perpetrate terror. The Fiqh Council of North America is an association of Islamic scholars that interprets Islamic law for American Muslims. As a formal opinion of religious law, the fatwa goes beyond any statements condemning terror that have been issued by individual Muslim leaders. Similar fatwas have been was issued in other countries, most noticeably by the United Kingdom’s Muslim Council after the terrorist bombings on July 7 and by the Spanish Muslim Council on the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Madrid train.
4. U.S. WANTS FBI TO INTERROGATE ISRAELI DIPLOMAT IN AIPAC LEAK CASE… The United States wants the FBI to interrogate the Israeli diplomat who headed the political department at its Washington embassy at the time classified information was allegedly transmitted from a Pentagon employee to Israel through two men who were senior staffers at AIPAC, the American lobby for Israel. According to the Hebrew daily Haaretz and Channel 10 television, FBI agents are traveling to Israel where they intend to question Naor Gilon and perhaps others as well. The Israeli government is objecting to the interrogation and has told the Americans to submit written questions instead. The FBI mission to Israel apparently contradicts repeated assurances made by AIPAC since the scandal broke that Israel is not a target of investigation in the case. The lobby had also vociferously defended the two men accused of actually passing the information they received from former Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin, but abruptly fired them. It has been reported, however, that it continues to pay for their legal defense.