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Arafat Gets His Freedom, is Soon Lambasting Israel

May 3, 2002
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The United States hoped Yasser Arafat would use his new-found freedom to clamp down on terrorism, but so far he is using it to vilify Israel.

The Palestinian Authority president emerged Thursday from his Ramallah headquarters and immediately denounced Israelis as “terrorists, Nazis and racists.”

Arafat, who had been confined to his compound since Israel’s Operation Protective Wall began March 29, flashed victory signs to a crowd of supporters outside the headquarters before getting into a waiting motorcade that took him to downtown Ramallah, where he visited a hospital.

He also told the crowd that the Jenin refugee camp henceforth would be known as “Jeningrad,” a reference to the Nazi sieges of Stalingrad and Leningrad during World War II.

Hours earlier, Israeli troops had withdrawn from Arafat’s compound. The withdrawal took place after six Palestinians wanted by Israel arrived at a prison in Jericho, where they will be guarded by a U.S. and British team.

They include the four assassins of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi; the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group to which the assassins belong; and the P.A. official who oversaw a $50 million weapons shipment from Iran that Israel intercepted in January.

Arafat has no immediate plans to travel abroad, aides said. In an interview following the completion of the Israeli withdrawal, the Palestinian leader said he first wants to visit the Palestinian population centers where Israel carried out its military campaign.

Political observers expect him to rally the Palestinian crowds behind him as he lashes out at the Israeli campaign.

Arafat may fear that if he travels abroad Israel won’t allow his return.

In an interview with ABC-TV’s “Nightline” on Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he could not guarantee that Arafat would be allowed to return if violence flared while he was abroad.

“We’re not asked to give any guarantees. We’re not going to give any guarantees,” he said.

Sharon added that he would present a new, “serious” peace plan when he meets with President Bush at the White House next week.

But before Sharon’s trip to Washington, Israel was waiting to see what steps the U.N. Security Council would take following a decision to disband the fact-finding team into the battle at the Jenin refugee camp.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Wednesday that he planned to disband the mission because of disagreements with Israel over its makeup and mandate.

Syria withheld a draft resolution at the Security Council meeting Wednesday that could have resulted in sanctions against Israel because the resolution did not have enough backing.

Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, told Israel Radio on Thursday that Israel should have cooperated with the panel.

“We believe that an inquiry into what happened in Jenin on all sides would have been in Israel’s interests. We regret that for all sorts of complicated reasons, this inquiry has not gone ahead,” he said. “We don’t think it is in the interest of Israel.”

While the siege in Ramallah ended, a standoff continued at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where several dozen Palestinian gunmen are holed up, along with a number of civilians and clergy.

On Thursday, a Palestinian policeman was killed during a gun battle with Israeli troops at the church.

The fighting took place hours after fire engulfed parts of the besieged compound during another fierce firefight.

Palestinians set the fires when they feared that Israel might attack the church, CNN reported.

In another development, a senior Vatican official arrived in Israel on Thursday to try to help end the monthlong standoff at the church.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray met with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who said the break-in at the church a month ago by armed Palestinian “terrorists is both a war crime and a violation of international law.”

Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued search-and-arrest operations in the West Bank.

Some 100 Palestinians, including 30 wanted terrorists, were arrested in an Israeli operation in a refugee camp near Hebron.

Near Tulkarm, Israeli troops arrested at least five wanted Palestinians, the army said.

Czech Jewish leader has vision

of Prague as a center for scholars PRAGUE, May 2 (JTA) The chairman of Prague’s Jewish community has outlined plans to re-establish the city as a world center of Jewish academic excellence.

Tomas Jelinek, one of the Czech Republic’s most influential Jewish figures, is to lobby support for his idea during a visit to the United States next week.

Jelinek told JTA he had made contact with a senior rabbi in Israel with a view to establishing a center of learning in Prague. The city in past centuries has played host to a number of distinguished scholars and teachers, such as Rabbi Loew ben Bezalel and Chief Rabbi Ezekiel Landau.

“It is still in the early stages of planning, but I believe that Prague is a place where important figures in Judaism could spend a few months studying the rich archives on Judaica in Bohemia and Moravia and giving lectures on current Jewish issues,” Jelinek said. “I would like to see Prague becoming a visible place on the Jewish map.”

His plan envisages Prague’s Jewish community providing facilities with the backing of Czech and international Jewish organizations, which would provide stipends for scholars to study in Prague.

Jelinek said he believes the idea would benefit not only scholars interested in regional Jewish issues, both past and present, but the local Jewish population as well.

“It would be good for the Prague Jewish community because we would attract scholars and rabbis, while the Jewish world outside would benefit by being able to rediscover Jewish life here,” he said.

Some scholars, he said, would find Prague an attractive place to “finish their thoughts” in their respective fields.

“Prague was a place where leading Jewish authorities such as Rabbi Loew and Rabbi Landau used to stay,” he continued. “I follow the principle that if you don’t have thinkers here, bring them in from abroad. In some way it helps you to inspire the local community.”

The American Jewish Committee has invited Jelinek to the United States. He will visit Washington and New York during his stay.

He said he would try to win financial and moral support for his plan.

“I am looking to establish the project as soon as possible, but I need to win support for this idea from authorities in Judaism,” he said. “It cannot start just as a good idea from one chairman of the Prague Jewish community. It has to be something that involves a rabbi in Israel and respected figures from the U.S.A., Britain or from France.”

Jelinek also intends to press for financial support for social programs caring for the Prague Jewish community’s 800 Holocaust survivors.

“I would like to ask those responsible for humanitarian funds in international Jewish institutions for money for social projects, so we can ensure the future funding of programs for survivors,” he said.

Jelinek said the Prague Jewish community is not wealthy enough to provide full social services for all its survivors.

“We have 800 survivors, but at the moment we can only support about one-eighth of them through homes for the elderly and home help services,” he argued.

Jelinek said Czech Holocaust survivors were entitled to be looked after properly because many had not received full compensation in past claims against Germany.

“I believe in the world today there are only a few thousand survivors, but we cannot be excluded from money available in humanitarian funds,” he said. “People in Eastern Europe received less compensation than people in the West; that is just a fact.”

During his trip, Jelinek hopes to develop a “partnership” with a range of Jewish communal organizations in the United States.

“I believe that Jews in America can very much benefit from re-establishing contacts with Eastern European communities because many of them came from Eastern Europe and are looking for their own heritage,” he said. “And Czech Jews could learn from the vitality of Jewish life in the U.S.A.”

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