- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WEST BANK

Israel releases Hamas speaker

RAMALLAH | Israel on Tuesday released the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Abdel Aziz Duaik, who was jailed for nearly three years over his ties to the Islamist group, his attorney said.

The release of Mr. Duaik came after Israeli prosecutors failed to persuade a military court last week to extend his prison term, which was set to end in August.

Israel detained Mr. Duaik, 60, and dozens of other Hamas politicians in the occupied West Bank in 2006 shortly after gunmen from the Palestinian Islamist group and others abducted an Israeli soldier on the Gaza Strip border.

The dragnet paralyzed the Palestinian Legislative Council, which had been dominated by Hamas since it beat Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Western-backed, secular Fatah faction in a parliamentary election earlier that year.

Hamas said 34 of its lawmakers were still in Israeli custody.

Meanwhile, Israeli Army Radio reported Tuesday that Israel has authorized construction of 300 new homes at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, defying U.S. calls for a halt to settlement growth.

The radio said 60 of the 300 homes slated for the Talmon settlement in the West Bank have already been built and that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who oversees West Bank operations, had approved plans to construct another 240 units there.

ISRAEL

Official’s mosque visit sparks anger

JERUSALEM | An Israeli Cabinet minister who made headlines last week for racist remarks about Arabs paid a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque Tuesday, prompting condemnation from Palestinian religious leaders.

Nine years ago, a similar visit by Ariel Sharon sparked a bloody uprising.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, a member of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, went to Islam’s third-holiest site to review police deployments in the flash-point area, his spokesman said.

He said the visit was coordinated with Muslim authorities, a remark contradicted by the city’s leading cleric.

During the 90-minute visit, Mr. Aharonovitch entered the mosque, which sits in a complex in the Old City known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The area also houses the gilded Dome of the Rock shrine.

Israel captured the site in the 1967 Middle East war.

WEST BANK

Ancient tomb found in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM | Workers renovating a house in the traditional town of Jesus’ birth discovered an untouched ancient tomb containing clay pots, plates, beads and the bones of two humans, a Palestinian antiquities official said Tuesday.

The 4,000-year-old tomb provides a glimpse of the burial customs during the Canaanite period, said Mohammed Ghay-yada, director of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Workers in a house near the Church of the Nativity uncovered a hole leading to the grave, which was about one yard below ground, he said. Antiquities officials dated the grave to the Early Bronze Age, between 1900 B.C. and 2200 B.C.

EGYPT

Russia to host peace talks

CAIRO | Russia’s president said in Cairo on Tuesday that Moscow aimed to hold a Middle East peace conference before the end of 2009, a move backed by Egypt.

“We paid special attention to Middle East issues. We highly appreciate efforts by the Egyptian president to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation in the region,” Dmitry Medvedev said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Russia, which has proposed holding such a Middle East conference in the past, is a member of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators, along with the European Union, the United States and the United Nations. Moscow is the only Quartet member talking to Hamas, the group that controls Gaza but is snubbed by Israel and the West.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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