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The Media Line Sunday News Roundup

1. U.N. CONDEMNS IRANIAN CALL TO OBLITERATE ISRAEL; IRAN STATEMENT SEEN AS ‘BACKTRACKING’… The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday in which it said it favored a long-lasting peace with Israel, the return of Palestinian refugees and the creation of a democratic Palestinian government. The statement, which came the day after the United Nations Security Council condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” said that “Iran is committed to its obligations stated in the United Nations charter and it has never tried to use force or threat against a second country.” International observers are calling Saturday’s statement an effort by Iran to backtrack in the face of intense international condemnation of Ahmadi Nejad’s remarks. In an address to thousands of Iranian university students, the new president was reiterating the theme first introduced by the late Ayatollah Khumeini. On Friday, the Iranians had taken a different approach and attacked the Security Council condemnation, saying it was “proposed by the Zionist regime to close the eyes to its crimes and to change the facts, therefore it is not acceptable.”

2. ANNAN UNDER PRESSURE TO CANCEL IRANIAN VISIT… A number of the United Nations Security Council’s member states are pressuring Secretary General Kofi Annan to call off his planned trip to Iran, according to reports from New York. On Sunday, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Gillerman told Israel Radio that a visit by Annan immediately after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad’s call to “wipe Israel off the map” might give legitimacy to “a nation that demands the destruction of another state.” American U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told Israel Radio that the U.S. hopes Annan will “take all factors into account” in deciding whether to make the trip to Iran, but did not call for the trip to be cancelled.

3. ISRAEL’S RESPONSE TO PALESTINIAN VIOLENCE ATTACKS TERROR LEADERS; USES PSYCHOLOGY… Israel struck hard at the Gaza Strip over the weekend, using bombs and psychology to try to stem the violence aimed its way. Palestinians fired two rockets at Israel on Friday and another one on Saturday evening, none of which caused injuries or damage. On Friday night an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck a car near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the Gaza Strip that Israeli sources claim carried three Al-Aq’sa Martyrs Brigades operatives on their way to launching rockets against Israel. One of the three died in the attack. On Saturday, Israeli aircraft fired twelve more missiles, but all of them were aimed into open areas causing no damage. Israel says those areas are launching grounds for rockets. Israeli planes also dropped leaflets calling on Palestinian civilians to end terror attacks and turn in terrorists. On Sunday, Israel used artillery to respond to missiles launched from Gaza on Saturday night.

4. PALESTINIANS CALL ON UNITED STATES TO REIN-IN ISRAEL… Stung by Israel’s on-going attacks in the Gaza Strip and its renewed campaign of targeted killing of terrorist leaders, the Palestinian Authority has turned to the United States for help. In a statement issued by the P.A. on Saturday, Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, called on the U.S. to “pressure Israel to stop its military aggression against the Palestinian people.” He said American intervention will “positively contribute to maintaining the truce and preventing any deterioration in the region.” In his statement, Abu Rudeina accused Israel of carrying out air strikes on civilian targets for four consecutive days.

5. 200-STRONG PAKISTANI DELEGATION TO VISIT ISRAEL… A 200-person delegation comprised of Pakistani businessmen, politicians, religious leaders and retired generals will visit Israel in early November according to a report on Israel Army Radio. The announcement is the latest in a series of events evidencing a dramatic thaw in relations between the Jewish state and the sole Muslim nation with nuclear weapons. The turnaround began with an Istanbul meeting between the Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers, and was followed by a handshake between heads of state at the United Nations in New York.

6. ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER DERIDES ‘ABBAS IN INTERVIEW… In an interview with a major Hebrew daily, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz derided Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas as a “one man show” unsupported by the Palestinian people. The defense minister said he’s “not sure at all that we can ever reach a peace agreement with the present Palestinian government.” Referring to ‘Abbas by his nom de guerre, Mofaz told Yediot Aharonot that, “Abu Mazen and his colleagues…have not done a thing so far. The Palestinian Authority is not an address for us.” He said a peace agreement “will have to wait for the next generation.” Palestinian chief negotiator ‘Saib ‘Ariqat responded by saying that the Palestinians have no partner in negotiations. He said Israel’s problem “is with the whole Palestinian people.” A Media Line analyst suggests that Mofaz’s comments are in line with Ariel Sharon’s goals of avoiding final status negotiations and moving towards unilateral actions predicated on his insistence that there is no Palestinian “partner in peace.”

7. SHARON’S POLITICAL WOES CONTINUE; PM RENEWS THREAT TO LEAVE HIS PARTY… In a reminder of just how close Ariel Sharon came to losing a recent vote to advance his party’s primary elections – a vote that he called a referendum on his leadership – it now appears that the prime minister lacks the votes to confirm his confidante Ehud Olmert as finance minister and fill two other vacancies with loyalists who backed Sharon on the Gaza pullout. Olmert became acting finance minister after Binyamin Netanyahu’s resignation. The shortfall became apparent when Netanyahu, a former prime minister and Sharon’s principal political rival, announced that he would vote against all three appointments. Opposition politicians serving the cabinet are also expected to vote “no.” Netanyahu blasted Sharon over the weekend. In a statement issued by his office, he accused Sharon of “vote buying” and “the corrupting of politics in Israel.” Sharon’s spokesmen, meanwhile, have reactivated the prime minister’s threat to leave the Likud party and go to early elections as the head of a new political entity.

8. ISRAEL TO HOST WORLD TEAM CHESS CHAMPIONSHIPS… The Israeli city of Beer Sheva will play host to the World Team Chess Championships beginning on Tuesday. Seven teams will compete, including the United States, Russia, Armenia, Cuba, the Republic of Georgia and China. Egypt had been selected to represent Africa in the competition, but it withdrew for what the Israel Chess Federation said were political reasons: it will not play in Israel. The Israeli team is ranked fifth in the world, and has finished in second place in the European championship two years in a row. Four players from each six-man team will compete in nine rounds, the winner being named world champion.