Reported from Jerusalem
1. ISRAELI FORCES ENTER RAMALLAH; TARGET BANK BRANCHES… Israeli forces entered the Palestinian city of Ramallah on Wednesday, targeting three banks and placing several districts of the city under curfew. Israeli officials refused to say what the purpose of the operation was, except for specifying that Yassir Arafat – who remains ensconced in his Muqata’a headquarters complex in Ramallah – was not a target. They did, however, refer to “very focused activity” in parts of the city. The daytime raid drew a number of Palestinians who came out to confront the soldiers, but the crowds were dispersed through the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
2. ANTI-ISRAEL TESTIMONY CONTINUES AT THE HAGUE… Jordan took the witness stand in the second day of deliberations on the matter of Israel’s security fence at The Hague on Tuesday. Prince Zayyed Bin Raad, in the name of his kingdom, did what other Arab nations have not when he affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and referred to the “horrific” wave of suicide bombings. He said, though, that “much of the wall now being built by Israel is in territory that does not belong to Israel, but is in fact occupied territory.” He argued that the structure is “aimed at further assimilation of occupied territories into the state of Israel.” A Jordanian official recently expressed his nation’s concern that the fence will cause Palestinians to move to Jordan – an option deemed not acceptable by the Jordanian King. While the proceedings continued inside the court, Israel tried to divert attention by staging its own mock trial, featuring the families of victims of terrorist attacks. While poignant, some have criticized Israel for contributing to the public spectacle outside the court while denying the court’s jurisdiction and refusing to offer testimony inside.
3. EUROPEAN UNION OPPOSES ‘FENCE’ EVEN THOUGH NATIONS BOYCOTT PROCEEDINGS… Although European nations have decided to boycott the deliberations by the International Court of Justice on jurisdictional grounds, the EU’s president made clear that non-participation should not be construed as support for Israel’s decision to build its security fence. Following the second day of hearings at The Hague, EU President Pat Cox of Ireland said that while, “We accept of course that the government of Israel has the duty, right and responsibility to protect its citizens,” the fence represents the “progressive cantonization and diminution of the West Bank [that] is becoming a fundamental problem for those who believe in a viable and sustainable two-state solution.” Cox did, however, opine that “terrorism by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah and other forces is in itself a huge part of the problem.”
4. FUROR OVER PROPOSED PLEA DEAL FOR ISRAELI RETURNED IN PRISONER SWAP… Political opponents in Israel are uniting in an attempt to prevent a plea bargain for the man returned to Israel in the recent prisoner swap with the Hizbullah terrorist organization. Shortly after the deal was concluded, Israelis were horrified at rumors that Elhanan Tennenbaum might have gone to Lebanon illegally of his own volition and then fabricated the entire kidnapping scenario. Channel Two television revealed that a deal is in the works in which Tennenbaum would be sentenced only to the time served in the alleged Hizbullah ‘captivity,’ thus effectively “getting away” with his assisting one of Israel’s most uncompromising enemies. Members of Knesset (Parliament) from different parties are joining to file suit in the High Court of Justice to block the plea arrangement. Public outrage extends from anger at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for using virtually all of the nation’s bargaining chips for Tennenbaum while foregoing the fate of others, to the army for failing to recognize Tennenbaum’s addiction to gambling, his debts and his “shady” dealings.
5. ISRAELI PARLIAMENTARIAN: TERRORISTS PAID ‘BONUSES’ PER VICTIM… Yuval Steinitz, the chairman of the Knesset (Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, revealed that in addition to the long-standing stipends paid to the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists, a “per-victim bonus” is paid after terror attacks such as Sunday’s bus bombing in Jerusalem. The information was apparently revealed to the committee by Avi Dichter, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. According to the Associated Press, terrorists have confirmed that they have received single payments as high as $50,000 from the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization following attacks, but that they deny a formal scale is in effect.