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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. ‘ABBAS SAYS HE’S READY TO NEGOTIATE WITH ISRAEL; HAMAS GOVERNMENT NOT AN OBSTACLE… Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas said in Oslo on Wednesday that he is ready to immediately resume negotiations with Israel. He added that “the Palestinian legislative elections, which brought Hamas to power, [are] not an obstacle in front of negotiations.” ‘Abbas argued that it is the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and not the Hamas-led government that has the power to negotiate. It was the PLO that signed all agreements with Israel. ‘Abbas called for an international conference to oversee the negotiations, as is mandated in the second and third stages of the Road Map peace plan. The Palestinian leader is at once wresting power from Hamas and trying to offset Israeli interim premier Ehud Olmert’s drive for international support for his planned unilateral actions. Olmert’s position is predicated on his claim that there is no Palestinian party with whom peace can be negotiated and as analysts at The Media Line point out, ‘Abbas is doing all he can to dispel that contention. He is on a five-nation trip, the main goal of which is to jumpstart aid to the P.A. that was suspended when Hamas took control of the cabinet and legislature.

2. SWEDEN DROPS OUT OF INTERNATIONAL AIR FORCE EXERCISES TO PROTEST ISRAELI PARTICIPATION… Sweden has withdrawn from Volcanex 2006, international air force exercises scheduled to take place in Italy next month because Israel is participating. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted senior Swedish government officials as saying that, “Israel is not currently acting in the name of peace, and therefore, it should not take part in the demonstration.” The paper also quoted a Swedish Foreign Ministry official as saying that, “The point of the operation is to prepare for international cooperation in preserving world peace. The participation of the Israeli air force changes the prerequisites of the drill.”

3. OLMERT: PLUG HOLES IN THE FENCE… Israeli interim premier Ehud Olmert has ordered defense officials to immediately close gaps in the security barrier in the Jerusalem area. Most remaining gaps are the result of legal challenges and until recently, court-ordered injunctions. The Supreme Court has removed the injunctions even though final rulings have not been handed down in the cases. That leaves open the possibility that once built, the barrier will be removed upon review by the court. But nine days after a suicide bombing, Olmert ordered the gaps closed by means of temporary fences until permanent ones can be constructed.

4. SNATCHED TERROR SUSPECT WILL NOT BE TRIED IN A CIVIL COURT… Israel’s Attorney General has decided that the man accused of masterminding the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister that was snatched by Israeli forces from a Palestinian prison will not be tried for that crime in an Israeli civil court. Instead, Ahmad Sa’adat will be tried on a series of security charges in a military court in the post-1967 territories. Attorney General Menahem Mazuz said there is insufficient evidence to try Sa’adat on the assassination, but that could change later on when the government completes its investigation. Tourism Minister Rehav’am Zeevi was gunned down in a Jerusalem hotel in 2001. Sa’adat was one of five Palestinians who were taken from a Bethlehem jail by Israeli soldiers following a daylong siege last month. Four were tied to the Zeevi killing. The fifth was the accused mastermind of the arms ship Karine-A that was captured by Israeli forces as it sailed to the Gaza Strip. Israel said when it snatched the five prisoners that they would be tried in Israel.