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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. BUSH OPENS DOORS FOR OLMERT…Israel’s likely next prime minister Ehud Olmert will be visiting United States President George W. Bush just as soon as he forms the next Israeli government. The two men spoke on Wednesday, with a reported agreement that Olmert will continue on the path towards peace launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Olmert replaced Sharon at the head of the centrist Qadima when Sharon fell gravely ill in January.

2. ISRAELI COALITION JOCKEYING BEGINS…While Ehud Olmert will only be formally asked to create a new government on Sunday, unofficial negotiations have already begun with potential coalition partners. Qadima, the single largest party following Tuesday’s national election, will hold 28 seats in the new parliament, but it will need to find support from at least 31 additional lawmakers to give it an overall majority in the Knesset. Labor is widely expected to be the second-largest party, after winning 20 seats. As a result it is making major demands as the price for entry into the coalition. The religious, Jewish Shas party is also seemingly destined for a place at the cabinet table.

3. LIKUD LEADERS SCENT NETANYAHU’S BLOOD…Just a day after the Likud party slumped in the general election to just 11 seats, senior figures in the party met on Wednesday night. The former ministers failed to attend an emergency meeting of lawmakers held at 2a.m. on Wednesday morning. Instead Limor Livnat and Dan Naveh gathered with former foreign minister Sylvan Shalom at his home. The Media Line analysts say the three are trying to block any move by party leader Binyamin Netanyahu to merge with more hawkish parties. They are also understood to be considering when, rather than if, to depose Netanyahu.

4. HAMAS SWORN IN…The Bush administration made it clear on Wednesday that United States government money can no longer be distributed to the Palestinian Authority. Canada has announced it is following suit. The news broke as members of Hamas were being sworn into office. The ceremony took place simultaneously at two locations. With Israeli travel restrictions placed on Hamas members, some swore their oaths in Gaza, with the remainder in the West Bank city, Ramallah.

5. MORE ARRESTS IN SAUDI ARABIA…Saudi Arabian security officials have confirmed they have arrested some 40 men in relation to terrorist activities in the kingdom. The arrests are the latest in a series of operations since 9/11, which have seen hundreds of Saudis and foreign nationals being captured and placed in police custody. There have also been regular gun battles as officers have surrounded houses in which they say terrorists have been holed up. The authorities say most of the arrests have been of people with links to Al-Qa’ida.