Palestinians launched rockets from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel Tuesday. One went through the roof of a factory in Sderot's industrial zone. The other hit a container of diesel but did not explode.
Members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, as well as the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were in response to the killing of a senior PRC leader by Israeli forces Monday.
Also Tuesday, Palestinians fired at farmers working in a kibbutz near the Gaza-Israel border.
Suicide Bombers Strike Dimona
The first Palestinian suicide bombing in more than a year killed an Israeli woman. Two Palestinians wearing bomb belts walked through a shopping area early Monday in the Negev town of Dimona, police said. The first blew himself up, killing the woman and wounding nine. The second was felled by the blast, and medical personnel who stripped him to administer aid spotted the belt. A policeman then shot the terrorist dead.
Al-Aksa Brigades, an armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Israeli officials said the terrorists may have originated in the Gaza Strip and crossed the breached border into the Egyptian Sinai, from where it is easy to enter the Jewish state. Dimona is a small town with a high profile because Israel's main nuclear reactor is located on its outskirts. The Egyptian border is 40 miles away.
Progress in Shalit Talks
Israel and Hamas appear to be nearing a deal for the return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved in principle the release of some Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands" as part of a future Egyptian-mediated exchange in which Shalit would be returned, Israeli security sources said Monday.
Hamas wants Israel to free 1,400 prisoners, among them senior terrorists, as ransom for Shalit, who was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen in June 2006. Olmert has balked at granting an amnesty to Palestinians jailed for deadly attacks, and it is not clear how many could be released under his new directives. Security sources said the Prisons Service would assemble a list of candidates that would be voted on by the Cabinet. Israel may ultimately free as many as 1,000 prisoners, though most of them would not be senior terrorists, sources said. Ma'ariv reported that Hamas passed Shalit's family a signed letter by the captive soldier in a show of goodwill. Shalit's family declined comment.
Alleged Smuggler Killed on Lebanon Border
Israeli soldiers fatally shot a suspected drug smuggler on the Lebanese border. An army patrol spotted three armed men trying to cross the Israeli-Lebanese border near Ghajar village late Sunday and gave chase. A gunfight ensued.One of the Lebanese was killed and another wounded. The third escaped. There were no Israeli casualties.
Israeli sources said the Lebanese were drug smugglers rather than terrorists. Israel has been on high alert for attacks on the Lebanese frontier since the 2006 war against Hezbollah. The UNIFIL peacekeeper force in southern Lebanon said it was investigating the incident at Ghajar, which straddles the border and is the site of regular smuggling.
Israeli Rabbi Condemns Chinese Atrocities
An Israeli rabbi has called on Jews to condemn China for its human rights abuses against Chinese citizens. Rabbi David Druckman, chief rabbi of the city of Kiryat Motzkin, near Haifa, made the call -- protesting the alleged holding of thousands of political prisoners without trial, beating people who protest being thrown out of their homes and employing slave labor -- in a recently released video, Arutz-7 reported. Druckman was most critical of the Chinese government's persecution of the Falun Gong sect, a Buddhist sect outlawed in China.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, head of the Canadian branch of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China, has called on Israel to pressure the Chinese government to stop alleged organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners by quitting the Olympic Games.
"We as Jews must therefore stand at the front lines of this war and employ every possible tactic in order that the world expunge atrocities such as this," Druckman said on the video. "When there is evil in the world, every person with a human conscience, and every person with intelligence, must protest against it."
Druckman called on Israelis to protest China's human rights abuses by rallying against them when the Olympic torch passes through Israel later this month. China will be hosting the 2008 summer Olympics. In November, more than 220 Israelis, including academics, eight Knesset members and more than 40 rabbis, signed a petition calling for an end to the Chinese atrocities, the Arutz-7 report said.
Israeli Victim of Sept. 11 Laid to Rest
U.S. authorities identified and repatriated a bone fragment belonging to an Israeli victim of the Sept. 11 attacks. After confirming through DNA tests that a bone fragment found in the debris of the World Trade Center belonged to Israeli victim Alona Avraham, U.S. authorities shipped it back to Israel. On Jan. 31, her family buried the fragment.
Avraham, 30, was among the 56 passengers and nine crew aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which Al-Qaida terrorists rammed into the south tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
"This eases the suffering. It's better than nothing," her mother, Miriam, told Yediot Achronot after the funeral in Ashdod. "I've been telling everyone that, as far as I'm concerned, Alona has come back home."
Zuckerman: Israel a 'Client State' of U.S.
Mort Zuckerman, the editor of U.S. News & World Report, called Israel a "client state" of the United States.
"Israel has to understand -- like it or not -- it is not a great power. It is a client state. And therefore, it must be dependent upon a great power," Zuckerman said during an interview on Shalom TV's "World Jewish News" show last week. "There is no question that the United States has been and is the most reliable long-term friend and ally that Israel has, and it must do what it has to do in order to maintain that relationship. And if [cooperating with Bush's Annapolis peace initiative] is part of that price, Israel has to do it for the United States."
Zuckerman, a recent past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he is pessimistic about the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians but that Israel must make the effort because "it is the only way to maintain whatever political support it has, especially in the United States -- but really, in the Western world." He compared Israel and her quest for peace to Sisyphus, the figure in Greek mythology who repeatedly rolled a huge rock up a hill only to have it roll from his grasp near the summit. Zuckerman says U.S. policy toward Israel likely will change when a new president takes office next year.
"It never does stay the same -- and it is often a surprise," he said. "But it is my judgment that there are a whole variety of views of Israel.
Phone Service Stymies Sex Calls
Israel's main phone company is offering a service that blocks calls to sex lines. Bezeq announced Sunday that it has invested $500,000 in a "kosher" phone line that is unable to dial sex chat forums and other identifiable "pornographic" numbers. Leading rabbis have approved the service, which is aimed primarily at an Orthodox clientele. Bezeq once had exclusive control over Israeli telephone service but now faces competition from cable services.
ZOA Chides Hillel on Invitations
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life rejected a call to disinvite two controversial speakers from its upcoming summit.
In a letter responding to criticism from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Hillel Executive Director Wayne Firesetone defended the decision to invite University of Pennsylvania President Amy Guttman and UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to its Summit on the University and the Jewish Community March 24-26 in Washington, D.C.
The ZOA in a letter last week said Drake and Guttman both were inappropriate choices for speakers since they have been "insensitive to the needs and concerns of Jewish students."
Six of the nine pages of the ZOA letter were dedicated to detailing the "anti-Semitic speakers and programs" that are "routinely sponsored at UCI, causing Jewish students to feel threatened, harassed and intimidated."
Guttman was an inappropriate choice, the ZOA said, because she posed for a photo with a student dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party at her home in 2006.
Firestone conceded the photo was "in poor taste," but defended Guttman's "otherwise excellent record" of promoting Jewish life on campus. With respect to Drake, Firestone said he also was concerned with the situation at UC Irvine and had consulted with local Jewish leaders about the invitation.
"Like them, Hillel believes that a more constructive approach to Chancellor Drake is to engage him in conversation," Firestone wrote to the ZOA. "The Summit will provide such an opportunity."
Jewish Center Slated for Aspen
Construction is poised to begin on a synagogue and Jewish community center in Aspen. The Jewish Community Center-Chabad of Aspen, a 34,000-square-foot facility that will take up half a block in the city's historic downtown, is projected to cost between $16 million and $17 million.
It will be the city's first synagogue building, according to Rabbi Mendel Mintz, the head of Chabad of Aspen. Two Reform congregations in town rent space in local churches.
The building will house a religious school -- which currently serves 65 children -- a ballroom, teen game room, library, lecture hall and retreat center.
Mintz said the kosher deli and catering service will allow the JCC to host the Jewish organizations, notably federations and educational groups, that already hold conferences in Aspen.
Permits should be completed by March, he said. Construction is slated to take 18 months. Approximately 1,000 Jews live in the greater Aspen area.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.