From Jerusalem Post Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: "Sep. 7, 2005 22:33 Updated Sep. 10, 2005 23:03 By HERB KEINON
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is likely to vote in the cabinet Sunday against demolishing the Gaza synagogues, reversing a position he articulated just two weeks ago and all but assuring that the cabinet will vote not to destroy the structures.
...Opponents of the plan to destroy the synagogues received a major boost Saturday as six ministers voiced their opposition to the plan.
...If the cabinet does indeed vote to keep Gaza's synagogues standing, the pullout of IDF troops from Gaza -- dubbed Operation Ashmoret Aharonah -- is scheduled to begin late Sunday night and finish in the early hours of Monday, bringing to a close 38 years of Israeli occupation in the area.
...High-profile pressure by rabbis to keep the synagogue structures intact – the content of the synagogues have been removed – has apparently had an impact on Sharon, with the prime minister not wanting to be perceived in the Likud as doing anything that could be construed as "lacking consideration toward religion."
Two weeks ago at the cabinet, when the question was raised and the chief rabbis came to argue against destroying the synagogues, Sharon said he feared desecration of the synagogues, and remembered going to Hebron soon after the Six Day War in 1967 and seeing a synagogue dating back to the 1600's turned into a latrine and sheep pen.
...Now, however, a source close to Sharon said that leaving the synagogues would be a test for the Palestinian Authority. "The contents have all been removed, and all that is left is the structures," one official said. "This would be a challenge for the PA, because if the buildings were desecrated or destroyed, they would suffer from bad publicity. The last thing they now need is for the world to tell them that they are disrespectful of religious beliefs."
PA official Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying that leaving the synagogues intact would put the PA in an unfair position. "We maintain the highest respect for Judaism," he said. "We do not want to be put in a situation that we are demolishing synagogues in front of the world, or some of our people may do something that we don't want them to do."
...Foreign Minister Shalom said over the last few days he has received numerous appeals from Jewish communities abroad warning that the destruction of the synagogues by Israel could be a "dangerous precedent" that that could be used by governments around the world as an excuse to destroy Jewish holy sites. ...Shalom said he hoped the PA would not allow "barbarism and vandalism" to prevail, but that if it would, the world would know with whom Israel was dealing.
Margot Dudkevitch contributed to this report