Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Amid reports of dwindling food supplies and acute medical emergencies, an Israeli Cabinet member said the government had no choice but to ease the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel imposed the closure Feb. 25 after two suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon as part of a crackdown on Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the attacks and for bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

A blockade imposed by Israel on West Bank villages was lifted temporarily Monday to allow Palestinians to stock up on food and supplies.

At a meeting of the Labor caucus in the Knesset this week, Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he opposed collective punishment, but said there was little other choice in the fight against terror.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the ongoing closure as "inhumane," while Palestinian doctors claimed that the closure was responsible for the deaths of several seriously ill Palestinians amid a shortage of medical supplies.

New York's mayor rides Jerusalem bus

JERUSALEM (JTA) — New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took a ride on Jerusalem's No. 18 bus this week, in a show of support for the passengers of the route targeted in two suicide bombings.

Accompanied by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, security guards and journalists, Giuliani boarded the 6:30 a.m. bus, the same one that two suicide bombers had targeted in consecutive attacks Feb. 25 and March 3.

Laying wreaths at the sites of the attacks on Jaffa Road — near the central post office and central bus station — Giuliani said, "This is the little we, the people of New York, can do for the residents of Jerusalem."

Last fall, Giuliani made headlines when he ousted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from a concert at Lincoln Center during 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations.

An Israeli Consulate official in New York welcomed Giuliani's trip.

"Mayor Giuliani went to Israel as the mayor of probably the biggest Jewish city in the world to express his solidarity and the solidarity of the people of New York with the people of the State of Israel, and we really appreciate it," said Gideon Mark, Israeli consul for communications and public affairs in New York.

IDF soldier killed,4 hurt in bombing

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli solider was killed and four others wounded, one of them critically, in a roadside bomb explosion near the Israeli border in the southern Lebanon security zone.

The Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement claimed responsibility for the bomb attack Sunday in Kfar Kila, just several hundred yards from the Israeli border.

The wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Israel.

After the incident, heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli and Hezbollah forces were reported.

Earlier Sunday, an Israel Defense Force soldier was wounded in a clash with Hezbollah fighters inside the zone.

On Saturday, a soldier from the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army was killed and two IDF soldiers and another SLA soldier wounded in an attack.

Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group based in Lebanon, is the main group that launches attacks almost daily to drive Israeli forces out of the 9-mile-wide zone, set up by Israel in 1985 to ward off raids on northern Israel.

Right-wingers plan ritual curse of Peres

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Some right-wing extremists, most identified with the group Kach, say they are planning to hold a ceremonial cursing of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

A similar kabbalistic ceremony in which Yitzhak Rabin was cursed was held last Yom Kippur Eve. It was organized by Kach activist Avigdor Eskin, who later claimed that the prayer had proved effective when Rabin was assassinated.

Eskin is one of the organizers of the ceremony to curse Peres. He said he has received many requests to curse Peres on the grounds that he is endangering Jewish lives. He said he inquired about issuing the curse with Kach activist Rabbi Yosef Dayan.

Dayan said that at first he had been opposed to cursing Peres, but that the recent string of terror attacks persuaded him to hold the ceremony.

Dayan said he consulted with other kabbalists in Jerusalem who agreed that the curse should be issued.