The AP reports that in Portugal, a 16th-century synagogue (built during the time King Manuel I put forth measures to forcibly convert Jews in that country to Catholicism) has been discovered behind a false wall in a four-story house.

Congress has passed a bill including $600 million for US-Israeli defense projects and purchase for the 2006 fiscal year, reports Globes.

(JTA) Seventy-three U.S. senators signed a letter urging President Bush to call on the Palestinian Authority to disarm Hamas before elections next month. "If terrorist groups gain a substantial foothold in the Palestinian legislature, it will make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for there to be any progress on the 'road map' or on the road to achieving a two-state solution," the letter sent Wednesday said, referring to an internationally backed peace plan. The Bush administration opposes Hamas' inclusion in the Jan. 25 legislative elections, but prefers to leave the decision to the Palestinians. The letter follows a House of Representatives resolution last week warning of policy consequences if Hamas joins the Palestinian government. Congress has oversight powers over U.S. funding to the Palestinians, and the Senate letter echoes the warning. "There would be even more severe policy implications if any such groups were then brought into the Palestinian Authority," it says.

Arutz Sheva reports that with the arrival of an additional 200 new olim from the US this week, the number of those making aliyah from the US in 2005 will exceed 3,000.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will undergo an angioplasty some time in the next two - three weeks, according to Haaretz.

(JTA) The Orthodox Union applauded the Senate for a hurricane compensation package that could provide $1.5 million to Jewish schools. Compensation amounting to $6,000 per displaced student will be paid to schools that absorbed Katrina refugees, whether or not they're public, according to the year's final appropriations package, passed Wednesday by the Senate. The House of Representatives is expected to pass the package by the end of this week. Civil libertarians said the package circumvented bans on funding for religious schools, but it had wide bipartisan support in the Senate. Key sponsors were Sens. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). "The Orthodox Jewish community is very pleased that those who sought to cruelly exclude non-public schools and families from this program saw their discriminatory views repudiated," the Orthodox Union said in a statement. The Anti-Defamation League opposed the package, saying it did not "include necessary prohibitions against using these funds for religious education - or even worship services."

The al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades has announced that it possesses a rocket with a range of 25 kilometers, whereas previously the range has been 15 kilometers (one rocket landed near a kindergarten Chanukah party that 50 children had been attending at a kibbutz near Gaza), reports the Jerusalem Post.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel's Housing Ministry has approved construction of 228 homes in the West Bank; officials say this has been in the planning stage for the last five years and will take place in areas that will be retained by Israel after final peace agreements.

(JTA) A Jewish group is opening the first of 85 playgrounds planned for areas of Sri Lanka devastated by last year's tsunami. The ceremony for the playground, built by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International development, the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund and a Sri Lankan nonprofit group, will take place Dec. 26, the anniversary of the tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people. The JDC has raised $18.5 million in tsunami relief money.

China officially permitted a Chanukiah to be lit near the Great Wall; a group of about 200 witnessed the event there last night, according to Haaretz.


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