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The Media Line Sunday News Roundup

1. RAFAH CROSSING REOPENS AMID TWO ‘FIRSTS’… More than one thousand people poured through the Rafah crossing terminal on Friday, the first day of operation under Palestinian control. When Rafah opened, it marked the first time the Palestinian Authority has controlled an international border crossing. Rafah connects the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It also marked the first time Israel relegated its security to a third party – in this case, representatives of the European Union. Israeli participation is limited to watching on closed-circuit television from an observation room miles away. Israel’s agreement came as the result of intense international pressure, in particular that of the Bush administration. Israel remains concerned that under the present regimen, the possibility of smuggling arms and terrorists into Palestinian territory from Egypt remains high.

2. JAILED TANZIM LEADER WINS FATAH PRIMARY ELECTION… Marwan Barghouthi, the leader of the Fatah Tanzim terrorist faction who is serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in the murders of Israeli civilians, emerged as the strongest candidate in Friday’s primary election. The voting was to select candidates to run in January’s parliamentary elections. Barghouthi is commonly referred to as a leader of the “new guard” – younger Palestinians who want a leadership role in Palestinian politics. Israeli government spokesmen immediately denied Barghouthi would be released – at least “until a peace deal” is signed. But one politician from the far left, Yossi Beilin, said the election makes it clear that Barghouthi is “a top leader in the street” and because he can be a “moderating and positive influence” he should be set free.

3. ISRAELI GOVERNMENT WARNS CITIZENS ABROAD TO BE AWARE OF KIDNAPPING ATTEMPTS… The counterterror unit of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office issued a warning on Thursday, alerting its citizens abroad about the possibility of attempts to kidnap Israeli nationals. The advisory specifically cautioned Israelis to refuse invitations to conduct business in Arab countries and to reject unexpected presents and invitations to meetings in remote locations.

4. CABINET EXPECTED TO APPROVE REPLACEMENT MINISTERS… Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to succeed in obtaining cabinet approval for the appointment of replacements to fill in for those ministers from the Labor Party who have resigned from the government. Sharon has made it clear that he will only appoint those who are loyal to him and who have jumped to his new party from the Likud. It was originally believed that Sharon might not have enough support to make the appointments if Likud-holdovers decide to block the appointments, but the absence from the country of one minister assures Sharon of sufficient support for the move. It is believed that had the nose-count come up short, Sharon would have used the tactic he used during the legislative battle to approve his plan for the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, when he fired two ministers from a right-wing party serving in his cabinet. Following the completion of the pullout, many Israeli political commentators – even those supporting the pullout – were critical of Sharon’s firing of the ministers, calling it “undemocratic.”

5. LOYALIST SAYS SHARON’S THIRD TERM WOULD FEATURE ATTEMPT TO CHANGE FORM OF GOVERNMENT… A Sharon-loyalist who jumped ship from the Likud to Sharon’s new party told Israel Radio on Sunday that changing the form of government will be a priority of the next government. Meir Sheetrit said Sharon wants to see the creation of a strong president who is directly elected by the voters while members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, should be elected according to territorial representation. The proposal addresses what many political experts see as Israel’s fatal flaw: representatives being assigned to the party list rather than being selected by and answerable to a constituency.

6. SWISS FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RED CROSS DEAL TO ADMIT ISRAEL WILL BE SIGNED MONDAY… Switzerland’s foreign ministry has announced a deal that will create a new symbol for the International Red Cross that will allow Israel to become a member for the first time. Adoption of the new “crystal” symbol is intended to obviate opposition by Muslim nations to the use of the red star of David and clear the way for Israel’s emergency relief organization to be admitted to the international body. According to the Associated Press, an agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian organizations will be signed in Geneva on Monday.

7. ISRAEL’S PRESIDENT DECLARES ELECTION A REFERENDUM ON THE FUTURE OF POST-1967 TERRITORIES… Israeli President Moshe Katsav has declared the upcoming election to be a referendum on the future of land taken in the 1967 War (Six Day War). Katsav told Israel Radio that while the issue has actually been at the core of all elections since that time, it has never been clearly resolved. He called on the nation’s political parties to this time state their views clearly on the future of post-1967 territories. For his part, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is actively working toward setting what he believes should be the final borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

8. ISRAEL ANGERED BY BRITISH MEMO ACCUSING IT OF ILLEGAL EXPANSION OF COMMUNITIES… A memo drafted by the UK’s east Jerusalem consulate that accuses Israel of illegally expanding its post-1967 communities has angered Israeli officials. The document, which was supposed to have been a confidential memo to the Foreign Office, was circulated as a European Union document and accuses Israel of determining the route of its controversial security barrier based on its intent to prevent east Jerusalem from becoming the capital of a new Palestinian state rather than on security considerations. It charged that the fence was being used to “create a de facto annexation of Palestinian land.” The memo charges that Israel’s actions jeopardize peace and stand to radicalize Palestinians. It goes so far as to recommend that diplomatic meetings with Palestinian leaders be held in east Jerusalem rather than in Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the memo was “not the actions of those who support Israel.”

9. ISRAEL’S RETURN OF TERRORISTS’ BODIES IS A GESTURE TO LEBANESE GOVERNMENT… Israel has returned the bodies of three Hizbullah terrorists who were killed last week while on a mission to kidnap Israeli soldiers along the Israel-Lebanese border. Responding positively to the request that came from the Lebanese government, the Israelis saw it as an opportunity to defuse tensions with Lebanon following the incursion and day-long battle that ensued. Elements of the Israeli response included cross-border shelling by its artillery and aerial attacks on Hizbullah positions by its jet fighters. Eleven Israelis were injured during the fighting.