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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. TWO ISRAELIS KILLED INCLUDING THREE-YEAR OLD, MOTHER CRITICAL IN QASSAM ROCKET ATTACK NEAR KINDERGARTEN… An Israeli man and his three-year old grandchild were killed and the child’s mother left in critical condition on Monday morning when Palestinian Qassam rockets landed on the southern town of Sderot, according to Israeli sources. The town, located in Israel’s Negev desert, has been the most frequent target of the homemade weapon, but until now there has been property damage but no fatalities. Two rockets landed, one on a street instantly killing a pedestrian and one inside a kindergarten courtyard. A total of six were injured.

2. PALESTINIAN EXPLOSIVES SET OFF IN TUNNEL UNDER ISRAELI ARMY BASE… One Israeli soldier was killed and five injured on Sunday night when a massive explosive charge was ignited in a tunnel dug beneath an army outpost in the Gaza Strip. Rescue workers trying to extricate soldiers trapped in the rubble came under mortar and automatic weapon fire. Claiming credit for the attack, a spokesman for Yassir Arafat’s Al-Aq’sa Martyrs Brigades said that 330 pounds of explosives were detonated in the 1,150-foot tunnel. He said that the attack was “a message to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that…our fighters will continue the holy struggle until we uproot them [Israelis] from our land.” Hamas shared credit for the assault, which comes as Egypt is attempting to broker cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and terrorist factions to ensure calm following Israel’s promised unilateral pullout from Gaza.

3. ISRAEL HITS TWO METAL FACTORIES AFTER ATTACK… Israel launched two helicopter strikes at metal factories in the Gaza Strip after Palestinians attacked an army outpost. Israel claimed that the targeted workshops were used to build weapons, including Qassam rockets. Helicopters fired a total of ten missiles at two locations, both in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, causing damage to buildings and only two slight injuries.

4. NATO INVITES SEVEN MIDDLE EASTERN NATIONS TO NEW ‘PARTNERSHIP’… Israel, Egypt and Jordan are among seven nations that have been invited by NATO to become part of what is being called a “partnership”, called the “Mediterranean dialogue.” According to NATO, the foreign ministers and defense ministers of the new partners will be invited to attend NATO meetings in an attempt to strengthen military ties between the international defense organization and individual countries in the region. The decision was made at the NATO conference in Turkey. Israel has been invited to send its navy to participate in a NATO operation to prevent arms smuggling in the Mediterranean Sea. NATO will deal with each of the seven new participants on an individual basis rather than as a regional group.

5. ISRAEL’S LABOR PARTY BEGINS ASSAULT ON SHARON GOVERNMENT… Israel’s leading opposition party will reverse its policy of providing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a “safety net” against no-confidence motions when its own motion reaches the floor of the Knesset (parliament) on Monday. The Labor Party had provided the support to Sharon because of its approval of plans to evacuate the Gaza Strip unilaterally. Simultaneously, numerous feelers between Labor and Sharon’s Likud party concerning the possibility of forming a joint government have been going on. Since Sharon’s majority dissipated and his coalition became a minority government, sentiment within the Labor Party has been to go for the jugular. Last week, Labor voted in favor of a no-confidence motion brought by another party in reference to Sharon’s economic policy, which has become the opposition’s banner issue. Labor’s own no-confidence motion also concerns economic policy. Even if one of the three motions passes, the chance of the government falling is extremely remote because of the disunity among the opposition.

6. ISRAEL-FRANCE FRICTION OVER ARAFAT VISIT… Israeli leaders are livid over French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier’s planned visit to Yassir Arafat on Tuesday. Israeli policy, supported by the United States, is to isolate Arafat, who remains ensconced in his Ramallah headquarters since December 2001. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused in most cases to meet during the same visit with foreign dignitaries who visit Arafat. Accenting the pointed intent of Barnier, Franco Frattini and Joschka Fischer, his Italian and German counterparts, both respected Sharon’s wishes on recent visits to Israel. Barnier claimed the point of his meeting is to convince Arafat to pressure the Palestinians into carrying out the security reforms demanded of him by the international community.