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[Reported from Jerusalem]

1. QUREI’ ASKED TO FORM PERMANENT GOVERNMENT; SAYS TERROR ORGS WILLING TO TALK… A Palestinian Authority minister has indicated that Ahmad Qurei’ will agree to Yassir Arafat’s request that he form an expanded, permanent government. Qurei’ himself was more vague, but is expected to present a new government to the Palestinian Legislative Council before the November 4th expiration of the present emergency government. On Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush praised Mahmoud ‘Abbas, the former PA prime minister, but criticized Qurei’s government, saying that, “I do not see the same commitment to fight terror from the old guard … Therefore it’s going to be very hard to move the peace process forward until there’s a focused effort by all parties to assume their responsibilities.” Qurei’ told Reuters that he has been polling the terrorist organizations including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that they are all willing to renew talks with him concerning a possible second “hudna” – a temporary, unilateral cease-fire. Hamas leader Sheikh ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz A-Rantisi disputed Qurei’s statement, saying that his organization rejected the possibility of another hudna, but others insist that contacts between Hamas and Qurei’ are underway. Israeli military leaders had warned that the first hudna would be exploited by the terrorist organizations as a time to rearm, regroup and plan new attacks. Ultimately, the hudna ended with a dramatic upswing in violence. While Qurei’ continues to speak of a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to insist that nothing short of dismantling the terrorist infrastructures is acceptable as a basis upon which to renew talks.

2. ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: HIZBULLAH PLANNING MAJOR ATTACK IN THE NORTH… Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Army Radio that Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, “is preparing a significant terrorist attack, more significant than the routine attacks in the north and the [Israeli army] has taken measures as a result.” The warning comes in the aftermath of an escalation of tension on the Israel-Lebanon border. Israel sent warplanes to bomb Hizbullah bases in southern Lebanon after Israeli positions were targeted in two barrages of shells and missiles on Monday. A spokesman for Hizbullah said their action was in retaliation for Israeli acts against the Palestinians and Syria. They also tied it to Israel’s construction of a controversial security barrier separating its land from Palestinian territory.

3. SWISS ENVOY REJECTS ISRAELI REBUKE OVER GENEVA INITIATIVE… Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears unable to stem the growing momentum of alternative peace plans being brokered by members of his political opposition. The senior representative of the Swiss government was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to hear of Israel’s displeasure with Switzerland’s funding and support for the renegade plan known as the “Geneva Initiative.” Claude Altermatte, the Swiss head of mission, wasted no time in rejecting the Israeli criticism and making clear that his government’s involvement will not end. Switzerland will sponsor a formal launching of the plan in Geneva on November 4th. Meanwhile in New York, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan applauded such private efforts. After meeting with Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israeli intelligence, who are the authors of another alternative plan, praising such efforts, Annan encouraged both their plan and the Geneva Initiative. Supporters of the “Road Map for Peace” found it troubling that Annan would endorse alternatives that will make it more difficult to enforce the Road Map while the U.N. is one of the Road Map’s sponsors.

4. NEW U.S.-ISRAEL JOINT WEAPON DEVELOPMENT FUNDING APPROVED… The United States has approved $57 million to fund the development of a joint U.S.-Israel project to build a laser cannon that will be able to destroy in-coming short-range missiles. The revelation was made by Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He said the Nautilus system will be deployed along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and Syria. The project follows the success of the Arrow anti-missile missile system that was also jointly developed by Israel and the U.S. and put into use during the weeks leading up to the Iraqi war. The Associated Press reported that there is no public record of the funding, prompting speculation that the money will come from the classified portion of the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill which has already been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.

5. EL AL ACTS ON THREATS… Long known as the world’s safest carrier, El Al Israel Airlines is remaining in the news as the world’s most prominent target. Just days after diverting two flights from Toronto’s international airport because of an intelligence tip about the imminent threat of a shoulder-fired missile attack, El Al was reported to have covered over its logo on airplanes seen in Bangkok, in order to make it more difficult to identify them from the ground. The airline has reportedly received threats in Thailand similar to the Toronto warnings. An El Al spokesman said that only the logo on one side of one plane was covered for two flights and that “All
El Al planes fly with the company name, logo
and Israeli flag.”