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Moving in utter silence, Google took the pundits by surprise yesterday morning with the launch of a beta site Hebrew version news service.

Nobody had expected Google Israel to move so fast, but last night the whispers spread through forums that the search giant had decided on a quiet launch of its service.

The service already incorporates a fairly new Google News feature, which enables users to personalize the news homepage.

Google News has been adapted to dozens of countries and languages. In Israel, as elsewhere, it automatically collates headlines from about 100 Hebrew-language news sources, and takes images and extracts from thousands of additional sources, providing links to the sites of origin.

In the case of Israel, the roughly hundred news sources include the giants, of course, such as Haaretz, Ynet, NRG and the like, as well as niche sites such as vgames.co.il, the site for car aficionados sharks.co.il, and the news magazine of the Weizmann Institute.

Dennis Woodside, the EMEA manager for Google, had promised at the official inauguration of Google Israel in February that most of the company's services would be migrated into Hebrew within 18 months.

Recently the company also announced intentions to open an R&D office in Haifa. A rather esoteric indication that Google has discovered Israel is indicated by its having begun providing data - for the first time since it began publishing Zeitgeist in 2001 - on surfers in Israel as well.

Walla, one of the leading Israeli content providers, is threatening Google with a lawsuit if it continues to harvest headlines and content from its site. Walla's lawyers have already sent Google Israel a letter on the matter.

This is similar to the worldwide battle between content providers and search engines over ownership and rights to content and news.