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News Brief

July 18, 2005
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An Israeli army platoon for religious conscripts was disbanded after nine of them refused to take part in preparations for the Gaza Strip withdrawal. The military chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, ordered the unprecedented move Sunday as the nine soldiers faced disciplinary hearings. Security sources described the platoon as part of the hesder program, in which conscripts alternate military service with yeshiva studies. Israel fears a rebellion in the ranks as the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, slated for next month, nears.

Israel reportedly plans to kick off its Gaza Strip withdrawal by removing three small, predominantly secular settlements. Ma’ariv reported Sunday that Dugit, a tiny settlement in northern Gaza, will be evacuated first on Aug. 21, six days after the withdrawals are formally to begin next month. Next on the removal roster reportedly are Elei Sinai and Nisanit, settlements near Dugit where residents already have begun leaving.

Israel adopted a 10-year road safety plan. Under the program approved Sunday by a Cabinet vote of 18-2, Israel hopes to become one of the world’s seven safest nations in terms of traffic accidents by 2015. It will mean almost halving the rate of road deaths in Israel, even as traffic increases.

Iran accused the United States and Israel of trying to coax information out of its nuclear scientists. Defectors from Iran’s nuclear program have been key to revelations by the International Atomic Energy Commission about the Islamic republic’s attempts to acquire a bomb.

An El Al pilot died during an Alpine trek. The body of Kobi Jungermann, 44, was found Sunday in a glacier in the French area of the mountain region. Rescuers dispatched to search for the Boeing 737 pilot after he went missing last month concluded that he fell into a ravine.

Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel and the West Bank. The U.S. Secretary of State decided in the past few days to include the Mideast stopover on this week’s Africa tour. The Bush administration has been concerned at the recent intensification of violence, with a number of Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliatory measures.

Mahmoud Abbas must continue his crackdown on Islamic militant groups, the U.S. State Department said. Violence wracked the Gaza Strip on Thursday and Friday after the Palestinian Authority president ordered his security forces to confront terrorist groups in the wake of an intensification of attacks on Israel. At least two people were killed in internecine Palestinian fighting.

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