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By United Press International  |  April 17, 2002 at 4:55 AM
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THE CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The top Palestinian intelligence officer said a cease-fire in the Middle East is currently impossible -- despite the intensive efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell -- because of the destruction wrought by the Israeli military on Yasser Arafat's security infrastructure, and the threat of further Israeli incursions.

"Instead of cooperating with the Israelis, we are preparing for when they attack," Amin al-Hindi, director of general intelligence told UPI in an exclusive interview in his compound in Gaza, one of the few official buildings in Gaza not decimated by Israeli munitions. "We are human beings here," al-Hindi went on, "everyone is thinking in the service of his family and saying let's be prepared and prepare ourselves for what would happen when the Israelis come in and invade Gaza so it is not what happened in Jenin."

The Palestinians have accused Israeli soldiers of massacring civilians in Jenin -- charges that have been flatly denied, but which are given apparent weight by the refusal of Israel to allow relief agencies and aid workers into the town.

Powell has continued to hold out hope of success, or at least progress, before he leaves for Cairo Wednesday to brief Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his talks in Israel. But official Palestinian sources said the meetings have failed to make much headway.

Israeli and U.S. officials have said that Powell has floated a number of proposals to contain the current fighting. These include a possible foreign ministerial level conference; a partial ceasefire between the parties pledging non-aggression and returning to conditions prior to March 29 when the latest round of incursions began.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israeli Television that the United States had agreed to host a regional peace conference in June.

Powell's staff has also made some suggestions including a more substantive statement from Arafat condemning attacks on civilians, reiterating one released by his office on Saturday following U.S. pressure to distance himself from a suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem.

-- What do you think it'll take to end the violence in the Middle East?

(Thanks to UPI State Department Correspondent Eli J. Lake)


VIRTUAL CHILD PORN

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a federal law outlawing "virtual" child pornography as "overbroad" and unconstitutional.

The law banned sexual images purporting to be of children, but produced without the use of children. Such images could include actors who appear to be children or may be completely computer generated without the use of real people.

Tuesday's ruling was almost a complete defeat for the government. Attorney General John Ashcroft said it'll make enforcing anti-child pornography laws "immeasurably more difficult."

The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 "does more than prohibit pandering (of child pornography)," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the court's majority opinion. "It prohibits possession of material described, or pandered, as child pornography by someone earlier in the distribution chain. The provision prohibits a sexually explicit film containing no youthful actors, just because it is placed in a box suggesting a prohibited movie. Possession is a crime even when the possessor knows the movie was mislabeled. The First Amendment requires a more precise restriction. For this reason, (a key portion of the law) is substantially overbroad and in violation of the First Amendment."

Federal law has banned child pornography for decades. But changing technologies, particularly the advances in computer graphics and the Internet, moved Congress to change the law in 1996 to ban images of a child who "appears to be" engaging in sexual conduct, or images that "convey the impression" of child sex, regardless of whether real children were involved in the production. The act also bans the knowing possession, receipt, reproduction, sale, transmission or shipment of child pornography.

In response, the Free Speech Coalition -- a trade association dealing in adult-oriented materials -- and other plaintiffs in Northern California challenged the law in court. A federal judge ruled the law was constitutional but a federal appeals court panel reversed the judge. The Justice Department then asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

-- Do you agree with the high court decision? Why or why not?

(Thanks to UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent Michael Kirkland)


PEDOPHILE PRIESTS

Eight American cardinals will meet at the Vatican April 23-24 to discuss the recent series of U.S. sex scandals that implicate church officials.

But there's no official word whether the meetings would be headed or even attended by the ailing Pope John Paul II.

Church officials told UPI it was John Paul who made the decision to call the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States to the Holy See. But the Vatican's statement on Tuesday was vague on whether or not the pope would be involved in the meetings themselves. One a church official, who asked not to be named, said only that John Paul remained "concerned" about the recent events.

Instead, the Vatican said the talks would be headed by three key non-American church leaders: Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

According to the statement, the goal of the meetings was to discuss "the problems of the Church in the United States regarding the scandal of pedophilia and (other) sexual misconduct." It added that the meeting would aim to aid the "serenity of the families involved and the general faith in the faithfulness of the clergy."

The Vatican confirmed that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who has been implicated in the cover-up of sexual abuses, would attend the meeting. The others include Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.

"The most important aspect of this development is that this unusual step proves that the Vatican is finally taking the ongoing crisis seriously," Alistair Sear, a church historian, told UPI.

The event is indeed unusual -- marking only the second time in history that a special meeting of cardinals has been called. The first time was in 1989, when John Paul called a similar meeting to discuss tensions between the U.S. Church and the Holy See over the issues of birth control and the Catholic marriages of divorced people. Usually, cardinals -- who rank just below the pope in official authority -- are called to Rome only for meetings to name new cardinals or upon the pope's death, in order to select a new pope from their ranks.

-- What steps should the Catholic Church take to deal with pedophilia and other sexual misconduct among its priests?

(Thanks to UPI's Eric J. Lyman in Rome)

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