Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Seven days after he was killed in an explosion in Damascus, 'Imad Mughniyeh, the Hizbollah arch-terrorist behind attacks that claimed hundreds of lives form the Middle East to South America, continues to vie for column inches on the front pages of Israel's newspaper.

Alongside ubiquitous front-page photographs of wintry scenes and warnings of the storm to come, Yedioth Ahronoth and The Jerusalem Post both have prominent coverage of the post-assassination tempest.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the Shin Bet – concerned that Hizbollah will attempt to avenge Mughniyeh's death by assassinating an Israeli politician – has decided that government ministers will be accompanied by security guards during their private vacations abroad. The new instructions have already been relayed to security officers at the various government offices, according to the report.

Haaretz, meanwhile, reports that the IDF has deployed Patriot missile batteries near Haifa, after experts raised concerns that Hizbollah terrorists will try to spark off a third Lebanon war. It was the first time the Patriot missiles have been deployed since the beginning of the Second Lebanon War in June, 2006. They previously were used in the Iraqi Scud missiles attacks in the Gulf War in 1991.

The Jerusalem Post also looks toward Lebanon in its lead story – a claim that Hizbollah has repeatedly attacked United Nations Interim Forces (UNIFIL) and that Spain is considering quitting the multinational force. According to an unnamed military official, quoted by The Post, the government is concerned that other countries will reduce the number of their soldiers in UNIFIL, which was enlarged following the 2006 ceasefire resolution.

The paper adds that last week's assassination in Damascus has heightened fears of more attacks and the resumption of a civil war in Lebanon, further endangering UN soldiers.

Haaretz and Maariv lead, however, with Jerusalem. On the day that the fifth annual Jerusalem Conference opens in the capital and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is due to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Haaretz claims in its lead story that Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed to defer talks on Jerusalem to the final stage of negotiations with the PA. This will not go down very well with Abbas, who insisted in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper on Monday that discussions on the status of the city must not be postponed.

According to Haaretz, a senior Jerusalem source said Olmert and Rice had talked on the telephone about a week and a half ago, and that Rice accepted Olmert's position that discussing Jerusalem at the very beginning could jam the negotiations and obstruct them.

An adviser to Abbas, Nimer Hammad, said Abbas had not agreed to delay negotiations on the city. He said 'the issue of Jerusalem is fundamental and cannot be postponed.' Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said all final-status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees, will be discussed in today's summit.

Olmert and Abbas' meeting in Jerusalem – weather permitting – is part of their regularly scheduled meetings, which, so far, have been accompanied by conflicting statements from the two leaders' respective aides regarding the talks about Jerusalem.

The prime minister, facing a threat by coalition partner Shas to bolt the government and possibly lead to its fall, stated early this week that Abbas agreed not to discuss the proposal that Israel cede East Jerusalem. In what Reuters called an 'effort to mollify' the Shas party, Housing Minister Zev Boim said Tuesday that there are plans to build another 1,000 units in the Har Homa neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Arutz 7 reports that Israeli leaders sparred among themselves over the status of Jerusalem, as they appeared Monday before visiting U.S. Jewish leaders holding their annual mission in Israel of the Presidents Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Olmert defended his record on building up the city but opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the prime minister's policies will mean concessions and a withdrawal to the 1967 lines.

At the Jerusalem Conference, meanwhile, Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger turned to the foreign minister his address and urged her to use her role as 'chief negotiator with our enemies' to prevent Jerusalem from being divided.

On more mundane matters, the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip continued on Tuesday, with two rockets landing in Israel. One of the Qassams exploded near Ashkelon, while the other fell in Sderot. No damage or injuries were reported, although a woman was lightly wounded by shrapnel on Monday night.

According to Army Radio – which counts this sort of thing – Sderot has been hit with 6,616 rockets in the past seven years.

Elsewhere in Gaza, IDF soldiers killed an Arab terrorist early Tuesday morning after he opened fire at troops patrolling near the Gaza separation barrier. None of the soldiers was injured.

Finally, back to the weather. Arutz 7 says that forecasters are scratching their heads following the non-appearance of what was expected to be the second big snowstorm of winter. While snow fell occasionally in the early hours of the morning in the capital and surrounding areas, most of it melted immediately, leaving a just thin covering.