Participants in a Middle East Peace Initiative fact-finding tour today visited Haifa to see the results of rocket attacks on that city at first hand. The Deputy Mayor of Haifa, Mr. Shmuel Gelbhart, showed a short film of the conflict before they went out to visit individual places that had been hit by Katyusha rockets as evidenced by a tell-tale spray of ball-bearings embedded in the surrounding areas. 

Each warhead had been full of tens of thousands of such ball-bearings that were shot out of the rockets on their explosion. Whenever sirens had warned of an imminent rocket attack on Haifa, people were advised not to go outside even to go to bomb shelters but instead to go to an inside room or corridor.

In the conflict twelve people were killed and there were approximately four hundred and fifty civilian casualties.
The group later visited Bnai Zion hospital where the civilian 

casualties were taken and which had itself been hit by the blast of one rocket during the war. 
A surgeon at the hospital, Dr. Michael Kafka, said that there were still many patients recovering in the hospital.

Participants at a Middle East Peace Initiative event in Jerusalem today sat around a breakfast table and discussed the current state of play in the region with members of local organisations that are directly or indirectly involved in negotiating a solution to the Israel Palestine conflict. Daniel Seidemann who is Legal Advisor to an organisation called Ir Amin which deals with Israeli-Palestinian relations within Jerusalem, spoke passionately about the history and of the struggles within the city but also of the friendships that still exist even between right-wing Israelis and Palestinians.
Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information, which covers issues that need to be negotiated for a resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, works with a team that includes both Palestinian and Israeli academics. He explained a hope that a fifteen year reunion of the Madrid Talks could serve as the basis for a ?Madrid Talks Two?. 

Ran Cohen MK (Member of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset) explained the current political situation. He was one of few who had called for an early end to the war and negotiations with Syria. He maintained that the Labour party and the governing coalition with Kadima were very unstable. The budget had not been agreed and therefore the government could only stay in power until March 2007 when the money would run out.

On their arrival in Israel, delegates attending the latest in a series of ‘Middle East Peace Initiative’ visits met with the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, who welcomed them to the Holy Land. Conference sessions began the following morning and those taking part included the Editor of Haaretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar, a retired Israeli General Freddie Zach, Professor Sammy Smooha from the University of Haifa, former Knesset member Walid Sadik, Dutch politician Dr Pietre Beelarts, international relations consultant Drora Bendov and Richard Younger-Ross MP from the United Kingdom.     

Participants attending a Middle East Peace Initiative fact-finding tour this afternoon met with the Fatah Palestinian Legislative Council member for Bethlehem, Dr. Emil Jarjoui, an d travelled with him to the West Bank under the escort of a Palestinian police car. They visited the partially constructed Al-Feneiq recreation centre which, with UN support and volunteers from Europe, is being built alongside the Dehaeshi refugee camp just outside Bethlehem.

Some twelve thousand people live in the refugee camp many of whom have been there since the 1950s and its inhabitants also include those who lost land or houses in the Arab-Israeli wars or since the 1967 occupation. The camp's houses were originally built as a temporary measure but have remained there ever since. 

With both Christian and Jewish biblical scholars attending the current Middle East Peace Initiative in Jerusalem, it was perhaps inevitable that some of their time would be devoted to a Jewish Christian dialogue on theological issues. It was also a logical follow-on from the conclusion of the first Middle East Peace Initiative pilgrimage back in 2003 in which Christians and Jews participating had repented together for sins and offenses committed over a long and sometimes shameful history. At the time the groups had presented themselves not with demands to seek fault in each other but rather standing together in a shared space of repentance in which all each in their own way sought forgiveness, both from on high and from one another. Participants included Rev. Dr Marcus Braybrooke, Dr Bertil Persson, Dr Frank Kaufmann and Rev Dr Michael Jenkins.


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