News in Brief

PMSharon considers Israeli boycott of Hague fence hearing

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is inclined not to send any Israeli representative to the international court in The Hague for hearings later this month on the separation fence. Israel's position, already delivered in the form of a written brief to the court, is that the court does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the legality of the fence. The UN General Assembly sent the issue to the court, asking it for a legal opinion. Sharon will today meet legal and diplomatic experts who have been formulating a position on the proceedings. Israel must tell the court by tomorrow if it will be making an oral presentation at the hearing on February 23. (Aluf Benn)

Shalom wraps up Indian trip

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom wrapped up a four day visit to India with a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee yesterday. Vajpayee told Shalom India welcomed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate the settlements in Gaza. During his visit, Shalom denied Israel was trying to forge diplomatic ties with Pakistan, but said it was concerned by reports of Pakistan leaking nuclear knowhow. Shalom met with Indian business leaders to discuss boosting trade. The foreign ministry says the trip was a success, noting that Indian politicians took time off election campaigning to meet Shalom. (Aluf Benn)

UN to buy Palestinian olive oil

The United Nations Food Program will buy $1.3 million worth of olive oil from needy Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to distribute to poor people there. This is to ease "the terrible economic and social distress in the occupied territories," the UN said. The plan is to buy 416 tons of olive oil from 2,600 farmers who will be defined as "poor." The Palestinian Authority will distribute the oil to needy residents. The UN yesterday issued a statement saying "closures and restrictions on movement and passage have a grave effect on the economy in the territories." (Shlomo Shamir)

Abu Ala rejects charges family supplied fence concrete

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia yesterday rejected charges that a cement company his family owns provided concrete for Israeli settlements and the separation fence. "I invite you and I invite the people who said this to come and check on the ground," Qureia said after meeting in Rome with Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "At base this is a report that is not even worth the ink it was written with," said Qureia, who has been a vocal opponent of Jewish settlements and the barrier. Qureia comments were his first since Israel's Channel 10 TV reported Tuesday that the Al-Quds Cement Company - owned by Qureia's family - has been providing the materials to help build the barrier. The TV report said Qureia was providing the cement to build the concrete slabs right outside his house in Abu Dis, a town near Jerusalem divided by a 25-foot wall that forms part of the security barrier. (The Associated Press)

Embassy says slain British activist's family has softened its stance

A letter from the family of Tom Hurndall, who died of his wounds after being shot by an Israel Defense Forces soldier in Gaza last year, indicates that the family has softened its anti-Israel stance, the Israel embassy in Britain says. The letter to Ambassador Zvi Stauber was a response to his own condolence letter after Hurndall died. In the letter, Hurndall's mother Jocelyn thanked Stauber for his condolences and expressed confidence in his promise that a full inquiry will lead "to justice being done." The Hurndalls, who have been involved in anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian political activity, have demanded the prosecution of the soldier who shot Hurndall, an International Solidarity Movement activist. (Sharon Sadeh)

Bank Leumi uncovers embezzlement case

Bank Leumi has filed a complaint with the Tel Aviv police against one of the clerks employed at its Trumpeldor Street branch. The bank clerk is suspected of embezzling hundreds of thousands of shekels from the accounts of customers at the bank. The embezzlement was discovered by the bank's internal auditing system about a month ago and the clerk was dismissed. The bank has promised to refund the stolen cash. (Roni Singer)

Dentist suspected of trafficking in women

A dentist from Rishon Letzion is suspected of trafficking in women, forcing them to work as prostitutes. Police said that Sergei Kuperman, 30, is suspected of belonging to a criminal gang that traffics in women. Eight others from thegang have already been arrested. He is also suspected of raping at least one woman and kidnaping another who tried to escape. The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court extended his remand by nine days yesterday. (Roni Singer)