Cemetery is granted major 1.5 million pound extension

The four Jewish organisations that own Edgwarebury Lane Cemetery in Edgware; Belsize Square Synagogue, Liberal Judaism, Spanish Portuguese and Reform Judaism, won a planning appeal last week allowing them to extend the boundaries of the site by three hectares.

The reconfiguration also includes eight parking spaces for staff and 18 for visitors.

Government Planning Inspector Jennifer Vyse, who conducted last month’s four-day inquiry, upheld the appeal launched by Belsize Square Synagogue – and backed by the other Jewish parties. She said that: “The proposal does not comprise inappropriate development in the Green Belt”.

She added that there was “urgent and pressing need for additional cemetery space for at least two of the communities; Belsize Square Synagogue and Liberal Judaism”.
Barnet Council, which rejected the application last year, was also asked to pay partial costs for the appellants.

Keith Conway, acting for solicitors’ Clyde and Co, who represented Belsize Square Synagogue, confirmed the four Jewish groups will pay for the extension together- which is expected to cost around 1.5 million.

“In total there will be 6,500 new headstones, which will be equally divided among the groups,” he said.

“The 1,600 new burial spaces for the Belsize Square community will mean it can bury its community for the next 60 years,” he added.

He estimated that the council would have to pay costs, “in the tens of thousands of pounds, which includes solicitors’, a barrister and landscape expert.”

Belsize Square has fundraised its share of the extension, and hopes its new headstones will be ready by the start of next year.

Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism, said: “The next two generations of our members can feel secure knowing that they can have an appropriate burial in an appropriate place, indeed, in the same place as their ancestors.”

Brian Colman, London Assembly member for Camden and Barnet, and Conservative council member for Totteridge, said: “I am outraged it was turned down in the first place; that was a waste of council money. This was a political decision made by the planning committee ahead of the General Election. As I said at the inquiry there were clearly special circumstances, including that people needed to be buried alongside family members.”

A spokesman for Barnet Council said it spent “in the region of £11,000″ fighting the case.

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What conflict?

After months of doubt over whether the US-hosted peace conference would take place at all, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US President George W Bush revealed a joint declaration on Tuesday, aimed at kick-starting negotiations towards a settlement.

But despite the attendance of representatives from more than 20 Arab states at the Maryland venue, including the deputy Syrian foreign minister, as well as the positive impressions from the speeches by the three leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian politicians back home were less than expectant that the plan to come to fruition.

The declaration, signed by Abbas, Olmert and Bush, stated: “We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.”

Both sides will set up negotiating teams and the first negotiations are due to begin on December 12. Abbas and Olmert agreed to hold biweekly talks and Russia announced it would be hosting a follow up peace conference.

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter was the most prominent Israeli politician to express his doubts over the proposals, claiming the Palestinians have yet to show any serious commitment to peace.

“The first stage is the Road Map,” Dichter said, referring to the peace plan launched by Bush in 2002 which calls for an end to terrorism as a first step. “The Palestinians failed to implement the timetable over the past two years. The timetable wasn’t realistic to begin with, and it’s still not realistic today, although it does steer us in the right direction. I suppose that by the end of 2008 we will know better how they can perform.”

According to the declaration, the Road Map will still be the main barometer of progress.

Hamas leaders were also unimpressed by the results of the conference.

Hamas Gaza spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, said Abbas has no right to be representing the Palestinian people.

Abbas “has no mandate to discuss, to agree, or to erase any word related to our rights,” he was quoted as saying by news agencies. “He is isolated and only represents himself.”

And a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees announced the beginning of operation “Autumn Storm” in response to Annapolis which will see rockets launched at Sderot and the western Negev.

The presence of Muslim leaders from countries including Qatar, Morocco and Pakistan was seen as a major plus point in comparison with previous peace efforts such as the 2000 Camp David talks which did not have the support of the majority of the Arab and Muslim world.

In his speech Abbas said he was “proud of this broad Arab and Muslim contribution and the broad international participation because it shows the support of sister countries for the Palestinian people and their leadership to establish peace.”

Looking to the future, Abbas added: “Such support endorses our approach, which calls for an historic and balanced settlement that will ensure peace and security for our independent state, for Israel and for the entire region.”

Olmert also spoke strongly about his hopes for the future. “We want peace. We demand an end to terror, an end to incitement and to hatred. We are prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize t

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PA Policeman Rescues IDF Officer

The officer, a major in the Southern Command who was in uniform, had been heading to a nearby army base when he took an unauthorised short cut close to the town of Shavei Shomron.

He then missed the turning for the base in the Mevo-Dotan settlement and found himself inside Jenin where local youths began pelting his car with stones.

Luckily a local Palestinian policeman stepped in and called Palestinian Authority security forces who managed to rescue the Israeli from his car, transfer him to another car and evacuate him to the PA‘s Muqata compound.

After he left his car the rioters set his Israeli car on fire. The officer was handed back to the IDF within an hour of the initial attacks. The army said it has launched an investigation into the incident.

An IDF spokesman confirmed that the officer was evacuated from the city by the Palestinian security forces in cooperation with the IDF and said the IDF commanders “expressed gratitude to their Palestinian colleagues for the fast evacuation of the officer.”

“We were very, very close to a lynching,” on IDF Lieutenant was quoted as saying by the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni praised the PA security services. “This operation proves that the Palestinian government and its forces are growing stronger in their action against the terrorist organizations,” she said during a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad.

Terrorist organisation Islamic Jihad was less than happy with the rescue, releasing a statement later on Monday criticising the PA for preventing a kidnap attempt on the soldier.

“The Palestinian security forces must defend our fighters and the Palestinian people from the weapons of the occupation, not defend the soldiers of the occupation from the weapons of the resistance,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, a pair of Palestinians who infiltrated Israel from Gaza on Saturday morning by climbing over the security barrier were killed by the army.

The individuals were able to scale the Palestinian side of the wall separating Israel from Gaza on a ladder and let themselves down the other side on a rope ladder.

According to the IDF spokesman the terrorists were armed with weapons and grenades and were intending on carrying out “a large attack in Israeli territory.”

The Palestinians wearing uniforms, concealed by heavy fog opened fire and hurled grenades at the Coordination and Communication Directorate in Gaza, situated near the Erez crossing who fired back and killed them.

“From our current knowledge, these terrorists belong to the Popular Resistance Committees and to the Fatah organisations. They were fully prepared with uniforms, vests, weapons, grenades, and explosives, which they intended to use against the forces pursuing them,” said Colonel Moni Katz, the commander of Northern Brigade in the Gaza Division, after the incident.

Meanwhile, Shalit’s birthday was marked with a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Family and friends of the soldier, who was kidnapped on the Gaza border last June, gathered round a 21st birthday cake while members of the public signed a petition demanding his release.

Gilad’s father Noam said: “We feel as though the entire establishment under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s leadership failed miserably in its efforts to return him home.”

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Action Urged Over Sderot Attacks

Around 170 rockets have been fired into Sderot, the Western Negev and Ashkelon by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in the last fortnight hitting homes, cars, schools, synagogues and on Monday killing a 32-year-old woman.

Shirel Friedman was killed and two others moderately injured when a Kassam hit her car, prompting overnight IAF air strikes on targets in the Gaza strip.

The IDF and the Shin Bet security service vowed to target more terror leaders in retaliation for the attack, which Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committees all claimed responsibility for.

The Israeli Air Force targeted two ammunition depots in strikes on Tuesday night and searched homes in Gaza on Wednesday morning leaving handwritten warnings that houses would be demolished if rockets are fired from the property.

Several dignitaries made solidarity visits to the area last week including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and British Ambassador Tom Phillips.

Phillips told TJ: “It was very striking to see the piles of spent Qassam rockets at the police station and to think of all the damage they have caused. I was deeply saddened to hear -on my return to Tel Aviv that evening – of the death of a Sderot woman in a further Qassam attack. This was a vivid confirmation of the very real threat under which the townspeople are living.”

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office this week changed its travel advice warning people against travelling near Gaza after dozens have been injured or forced to leave their homes.

The attacks have also delayed the building of a crisis centre in Sderot by British charity Emunah.

Last Friday, Israel’s emergency services Magen David Adom raised its operational level to ‘High Alert.’ It has launched an emergency appeal to raise £10 million for blood donating equipment, the evacuation of families and an armoured ambulance for the region. MDA UK is looking to contribute £1.5 million.

But residents are also calling for more protection from the government. Protesters shouted abuse at Livni during her recent visit. Mother of 7, Macha Fendel has lived in Sderot for 13 years. Her home has been hit by shrapnel from rocket attacks, she told the Jewish News, “My husband and son have had balls of fire going over their heads. These attacks have been going on for 6 years, we have been trying to get media coverage. The attacks have got much stronger.

“We need the army to go in and stop the rockets once and for all. Residents are under trauma, our children cannot go to school. These kids don’t know what it is to be free.”

Visiting the area on Monday, Olmert pledged support but insisted there was no immediate solution, he said: “We will continue to invest and will continue to protect you, but you of course know that there is no immediate solution to the Kassams and there is no definitive solution.”

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Progress In Shalit Negotiations

But, following a meeting of security officials on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his “disappointment” at a list of prisoners Hamas has demanded be released in return for Shalit’s freedom.

The list was received by the Israeli government at the start of the week and is believed to include the names of several hundred Palestinians including many who have been involved in suicide bombings.

A Palestinian Web site affiliated with Hamas reportedly published the names of some of the prisoners Hamas wants released, including senior Hamas leader Abdullah Barghouti and Hassan Salameh,

On Tuesday Defence Minister Amir Peretz, Internal Security Director Yuval Diskin, Mossad Director Meir Dagan, Special Coordinator on the Release of the Abducted Soldiers Ofer Dekel and other senior officials met with Olmert to discuss the Hamas proposals.

“Disappointment and reservations were expressed over the list of prisoners whose release Hamas is seeking. Israel will continue contacts with Egypt on the issue,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement released Tuesday evening.

The PMO’s office stressed the importance of not creating “false hopes” for the family of the kidnapped soldier. “The various reports that appear in this context must be treated with due caution in order to prevent the creation of false hopes,” it said.

And in a thinly veiled attack on the Israeli media, the office added: “Our hearts are with the Shalit family, which has been steadfast in recent months especially in the face of recent reports on this issue, which certainly do not lessen its continued suffering.

Shalit, 20, is believed to be held jointly by Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees andJ a group known as The Islamic Army. He was snatched while guarding settlements around the Gaza Strip on June 25, last year, less than a year after Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip.

Following the meeting Israel is believed to have submitted its amendments to the list to the Egyptian representatives.

It has been reported that Israel is willing to release around 1,000 prisoners in three stages, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

There were, however, fears that some of the terrorists holding Shalit are in dispute with Hamas and will not give Shalit up even if the demands are met or negotiations reach a satisfiable conclusion.

Olmert is expected to discuss the negotiations with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas during their scheduled meeting next week. A plan for regular meetings between the two was announced two weeks ago following the visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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Israeli Soldier Killed In Gaza

The officer, a tracker, was shot in the head by a sniper after he and a group of reserve soldiers entered a Palestinian building close to the El-Muazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The attack was claimed by both the Popular Resistance Committees and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Although operations in the Gaza Strip are generally only carried out in armoured vehicles, the group were apparently forced to leave their vehicle
Meanwhile, on Monday night the Israeli Air Force bombed a weapons housing facility in Gaza.

According to reports, the blast destroyed the home of a senior Hamas operative although no one was hurt.

The strike was part of an ongoing Israeli army campaign that has been continuing since the kidnap of Corporal Gilad Shalit in June.

An IDF spokesman said: “The IDF will continue to act with determination against terror organizations and terror infrastructure in order to create conditions leading to the return of Corporal Gilad Shalit and to stop terror attacks and the launching of missiles towards Israel.

“Terror organisations operate from within civilian populations, while cynically exploiting uninvolved civilians and using them as human shields, exploiting their homes to store weaponry and launching rockets at Israeli towns from populated areas.”

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Israeli Operation Continues

Tanks and troops entered southern Gaza early Wednesday morning as Israel attempted to pressurise the Palestinians into handing over Corporal Shalit, who was captured by terrorists on Sunday after they entered Israel through a secret tunnel. It is believed Shalit sustained light injuries to his hand and stomach in the dawn raid that killed two of his colleagues.

Aerial strikes were launched on three bridges in central Gaza and an electricity transformer that provides much of the strip’s power. This was followed by the arrest of over sixty Hamas members, including Finance Minister Omer Adbel Azek, Labor Minister Mohammed Barghouti and parliament member Mohammed Abu Teir. Troops have also taken the area around the abandoned airport, which provides a strategic point from which to observe southern Gaza, where Israel believes Shalit is being held.

The Army actions are aimed at preventing Hamas from taking Shalit out of Gaza City. A spokesman said: “The purpose of these actions [are] to prevent the kidnappers from transferring the soldier within or out of the Gaza Strip…The IDF holds the Hamas government responsible for the fate of the missing soldier.” PM Olmert told the Knesset that the aim was “not to punish the civilian Palestinian population” but “to return our son”.

A warning message was also delivered to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, when IDF planes flew over his summer residence. Although Syrian state television claimed that “the Air Defense Force then fired at them, dispersing them and making them leave the area”. The IDF said that they were not aware this happened.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials denied reports that a unity deal hammered out by Fatah and Hamas representatives in the midst of the crisis means that it now implicitly recognises Israel’s right to exist. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri stated that Hamas would stick to its “agenda of resistance” against Israel and that “the document included a clear clause referring to the non-recognition of the legitimacy of the Occupation [Israel]”.

The IDF confirmed that Itamar resident Eliyahu Asheri, 18, who went missing on Sunday, had been killed by the Popular Resistance Committees, who had previously said he would be “butchered” if Israel did not end its operation.

However, The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, who are attached to Abbas’ Fatah organisation, have claimed they have kidnapped an Israeli man in his 60’s, who is a resident of Rishon LeZion.

Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry, has since said that “we have called on some Arab countries to launch a diplomatic effort to reach an agreement about a prisoner exchange with Israel” so “that the crisis will be resolved peacefully and through negotiations.”
Israel’s air force chief Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy has declared that the operation might continue “at the current level”, but could develop “into something far weightier”, depending on the course of action chosen by the Israeli government.

However, Defense Minister Amir Peretz talked of a “surprising diplomatic breakthrough” on Thursday morning, although he did not elaborate on his statement. “We are in one of the most crucial stages of establishing the rules of conduct between us and the Palestinian terror organisations,” he added, although he showed approval for the continuation of Israeli operations in Gaza.

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Israeli Soldier Kidnapped

Corporal Shalit, who was snatched by militants in a pre-dawn raid on the weekend, was reported to have been wounded.

But reports that Cpl Shalit, who holds dual Israeli-French citizenship, was being held by the Popular Resistance Committees were denied by the group.

Lt Hanan Barak and Sgt Pavel Slutsker, both 20, were killed in the raid, which saw militants attack a tank after entering Israel from Gaza through an 800 metre-long tunnel.

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