Reported from Jerusalem
1. NEW YEAR’S EVE TERROR ALERT… Israeli security authorities have placed all forces on alert, fearing a major New Year’s Eve attack – possibly “non-conventional.” Police were told to be alert for the possibility of both air and sea-launched raids, as well as multiple simultaneous suicide attacks. It is feared that terrorist objectives include kindergartens, holy sites, hospitals and apartment buildings.
2. ORDER SIGNED TO REMOVE ILLEGAL OUTPOSTS… An order to remove four illegal outposts signed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the head of the army’s Central Command does not impress the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Information Minister ‘Saib ‘Ariqat told reporters, “I think the world is sick and tired of these public relations stunts – Israelis moving a caravan here and a caravan there.” Meanwhile, Sharon received backing for the effort from those most strongly opposed to the dismantling of Jewish communities in post-1967 areas. National Religious Party chairman Effie Eitam said his party will support the removal of illegal outposts if there is no way to make them legal. Affected parties are presently within a three-day period in which they can appeal the government’s decision to an administrative authority. They will then have another three days in which to appeal to the High Court of Justice.
3. COURSE CHANGES TO THE “FENCE” AIMED AT DEFLECTING PRESSURE… Faced with intense international pressure over construction of a security barrier Israel says is intended to keep suicide bombers away from its population, the Sharon administration has made some course corrections it hopes will alleviate criticism. The route of the buffer has been altered in two particularly sensitive areas. One change will prevent a Palestinian village from being isolated on the Israeli side of the fence. The move will also place the division along the Green Line – the pre-1967 border – which will presumably stifle the criticism, at least in that area. The second change is in the area of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, which has been the focal point of international protests. The United States backs the Palestinian position in the controversy, which accuses Israel of using the fence as a pretext to unilaterally set borders in advance of a negotiated settlement and creating undue hardships on the Palestinian population.
4. ISRAEL ENDS MILITARY OPERATION IN PALESTINIAN AREA… Israeli forces wrapped up a weeklong incursion into the Palestinian city of Nablus on Monday. During the operation, dozens of terrorist suspects were arrested. A curfew that had been imposed on the city of 150,000 was lifted when troops left. Israeli military officials cautioned that Nablus is a “hotbed” of terror and accordingly, operations such as the one just completed would continue.
5. SYRIAN OUTREACH STRENGTHENED… Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that an unnamed legislator of Prime Minister Sharon’s own Likud Party has been invited to visit Syria in order to discuss the renewal of Israeli-Syrian talks. The Knesset member is reportedly traveling to Egypt, but it was not clear whether he would go to Syria from there. Although the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that any such initiative would not be “at the prime minister’s behest,” the visit follows a clear softening of Ariel Sharon’s view of the sincerity of Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad’s initiative.
6. MASSIVE NUMBER OF JERUSALEM BUSINESSES CLOSED DURING VIOLENT PERIOD… Israel’s National Federation of Trade has quantified the disastrous effect more than three years of seemingly continual Palestinian terror has had on Jerusalem businesses. According to a report in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, 1,400 (12%) of businesses in the capital closed during 2003, coming on top of 2,200 others that had closed during 2001-2002. An official of the NFT said that in addition to the security situation, the government’s emergency economic measures “greatly reduced purchasing power” in the city, adding to the problem. Thirty percent of all Jerusalem stores still open say they face the risk of closing.