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The Media Line Sunday News Roundup

1. ISRAEL OPTS TO BLAME SYRIA, NOT ‘ABBAS, FOR FRIDAY TERROR ATTACK… Israel appears not to be allowing Friday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv to derail perceived progress in relations with the Palestinians since Mahmoud ‘Abbas took over as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials are, however, pinning responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed four and injured scores on Syria. Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the attack, is based in Damascus. The Syrians have denied any connection. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz did, however, announce that the process of turning over security control of Palestinian cities to the P.A. has been frozen pending “further evaluation” of whether ‘Abbas has taken the “necessary steps” against Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups. Media reports on Sunday indicated that the 21-year-old suicide bomber was recruited by a member of the Lebanon-based Hizbullah terrorist organization, which strengthens the ties to Syria and possibly Iran.

2. REPORT: IRAN HAD FULL NUCLEAR KNOWLEDGE BY LATE 1980s… Iran had already accumulated all of the knowledge it needed to complete its nuclear program by the late 1980s, according to a report by the Associated Press, based on interviews with anonymous diplomats familiar with proceedings underway by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Iranian know-how was acquired from black market sources, according to the report. France, Germany and Great Britain are in the midst of intense negotiations with the Iranians to persuade them to halt their uranium enrichment program. U.S. President George W. Bush backed those efforts in a speech delivered in Brussels last week. Iran continues to claim that making the fuel which can be used for either peaceful or aggressive purposes is its right and that while it agreed to a short pause in perfecting that process while negotiations continue, that delay will be brief. Israeli experts have warned that Iran will pass the technological point of no return by the end of this year.

3. U.S. REGULATORS FREEZE SOME OF JORDAN-BASED BANK’S NEW YORK OPERATIONS… American regulators have prohibited the New York branch of Arab Bank Plc. from carrying out traditional banking services because it lacks adequate controls against money laundering. Funds may no longer be transferred there and no new accounts may be opened. The bank, one of the largest in the Arab world and operating in 30 countries, will be allowed to engage in corporate and trade financing. The order was issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency. Arab Bank is the defendant in a number of lawsuits by families of victims killed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel. The suits allege that the bank was the conduit for sending money to suicide bombers and their families. In agreeing to a consent order, the bank also promised that it would not destroy any records at the New York branch of the bank. Earlier, the Central Bank of Jordan, which oversees Arab Bank, offered to close the branch altogether.

4. ISRAELI OFFICIALS ACCELERATING PROJECTED RATE OF WITHDRAWAL… Israel’s timetable for withdrawing its communities from the Gaza Strip and four in the Samarian region of the West Bank is being accelerated to four weeks from an original projection of seven weeks. The pullout is slated to begin on July 20th. According to Israeli officials, the shorter time frame will reduce the potential for conflict between police and troops on one side and those being evacuated and their supporters on the other. While leaders of the post-1967 communities speak in terms of peaceful resistance, government and military sources continue to focus on predictions of violence. Reuters news agency reports that one Israeli official also explained that the shortened timetable was aimed at preserving the economic viability of Gaza greenhouses by decreasing the time during which they would be left uncared for.

5. ISRAELI GOVERNMENT AGENCY BACKTRACKS ON HOUSING PROJECT STORY AFTER NEWSPAPER REPORT TRIGGERS MAELSTROM… The Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot kicked off a storm of opposition from Palestinians and left-wing groups when it reported on Friday that more than six thousand new homes in post-1967 territories were being approved. A spokesman for the Israel Lands Authority quickly replied that the report mistakenly referred to a 2003 proposal that was never approved. The Palestinians had issued an immediate call for Washington to intercede and stop the project, most of which was centered in the area of Ma’aleh Adumim, a Jerusalem suburb built on post-1967 land. Concern was fueled by the fact that the Ma’aleh Adumim area is one of the three “settlement blocs” Prime Minister Sharon says must be strengthened and that he says will remain under Israeli control in any final settlement. The Palestinians, on the other hand, vehemently deny that and accuse Sharon of creating facts on the ground through illegal building. U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated again last week that Israel must freeze all building in post-1967 areas, a condition Prime Minister Sharon agreed to when he agreed to accept the Road Map peace plan.

6. FORENSICS EXPERTS PRESERVE FINAL NOTES OF ISRAELI ASTRONAUT… Forensic scientists have managed to reassemble scraps of paper found in a Texas field that are the final notes taken by Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon before the shuttle Columbia blew up on reentry to the earth’s atmosphere two years ago. Using computer image-enhancement technology and infrared light, an Israeli expert supervised piecing together paper that survived the disintegration of the spacecraft and two months of exposure to sun and rain. News of the achievement was released at a convention of forensics experts in New Orleans. A portion of the notes were of a personal nature and will not be released.

7. ISRAELI WOMAN IS CROWNED MRS. WORLD IN INDIA… A 28-year-old Israeli woman was crowned “Mrs. World” at Amby Valley, India, on Friday night. Sima Bakhar defeated 40 other contestants for the diamond-studded tiara valued at $18,000. Organizers say the Mrs. World contest “showcases the modern married women who has imbibed style, grace, beauty and intelligence.” The two runners-up were Mrs. Croatia and Mrs. New Zealand.