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PORTUGAL SAYS SORRY
EXACTLY 500 years after Portugal's King Manuel I expelled thousands of Jews and forced others to convert to Catholicism, the country's parliament unanimously passed a declaration to redress the royal edict. Addressing deputies in a special session on December 5, President Jorge Sampaio said the expulsion "caused untold suffering, losses, humiliation, offence. It impoverished us as a people, as a country, as a culture, as a collectivity." Israel's Knesset speaker Dan Tichon attended the session.

MORE IRANIAN RIGHTS ABUSES
A UNITED Nations official says Iranian respect for human rights - not normally regarded as high - "may well have deteriorated" in 1996 as arrests and purges of those believed hostile to the regime increased. Official Maurice Copithorne said on November 12 the Iranian media had reported at least 66 executions between January and August. Targetted by Tehran were newspapers accused of weakening the regime, theatres showing films deemed "contrary to Islamic and religious values", and dissidents' meetings.

GERMAN-IRAN RELATIONS SOUR
RELATIONS between Iran and Germany - Tehran's largest trading partner - plummeted in November. Prosecutors in a trial in Germany of an alleged member of Iranian intelligence and a Lebanese suspect accused of assassinating four Iranian dissidents in a Berlin restaurant in 1992, accused Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni of complicity in the murders. In an angry response, Iran said the German judicial system, "under the influence of the United States and the Zionist regime", was biased and unfair, before accusing Germany of supplying Iraq with chemical weapons used against Iranian civilians during the bloody, eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

IF SYRIA ATTACKS, WE'LL DESTROY ASSAD - MORDECHAI
IN RESPONSE to Syrian Defence Minister Mustafa Tlas' warning that Syria was ready for, and capable of war with Israel, his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Mordechai told the London SUNDAY TIMES (Nov 17) that a Syrian assault would be met with a "devastating Israeli attack which could destroy [Assad's] regime. I am not going to threaten him as he threatens me [but] if they decide to go to war, they know we are ready and capable of hitting them badly." In December, Israel and the US held a two-day strategic dialogue focusing on Syria's chemical and biological weaponry, and terrorism against US and Israeli targets. Joint Political Military Group members said Iran and Syria would continue to be major subjects of discussion at their twice-yearly meetings.

UAE CONTRIBUTES $164 MILLION FOR GAZA HOUSING
THE UNITED Arab Emirates has promised $164 million to finance the construction of 3 800 housing units in the Northern part of Gaza City. The project will include playgrounds as well as medical, educational, religious and sports facilities.

ALIYA FROM FORMER USSR DOWN
JEWISH immigration from the former Soviet Union (FSU) dropped by eight per cent in the first ten months of last year compared to the same period in 1995, the Jewish Agency reports. New olim numbering 47 467 arrived in Israel between January and October 1996, compared to 51 554 the previous year. Aliya from Russia dropped from 16 065 to 14 106 in this period, while immigration from the Ukraine increased from 17 627 to 18 054. The total number of new immigrants for 1996 was nonetheless expected to exceed 55 000. Immigration forecasts for 1997 meanwhile have been set at 70 000 olim from around the world, of whom 60 000 are expected to come from the FSU.

IDF ANTI-HIZB'ALLAH UNIT REVEALED
THE IDF in early December disclosed the existence of an elite infantry attack unit called "Egoz", trained exclusively to combat Hizb'Allah in south Lebanon. Egoz soldiers are trained in special tactics in the security zone to assist them in lowering the Hizb'Allah edge, said an IDF spokesman. Egoz troops were trained with special weapons to meet the challenge, he said, and operated during night hours. Soldiers in the unit will spend all of their three-year mandatory service in the security zone.

'DEMOCRACY ABOVE JUDAISM'
ISRAEL'S Supreme Court President Aaron Barak said in December that if democratic and Jewish values clash, he would have to go with the democratic values. He said democratic values were more suited to the majority of the nation and therefore, if the two clashed, one would be compelled to place democratic values above Jewish ones.

PLO HOPES TO BUY SETTLEMENTS
ISRAELI Arab advisor to Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Tibi, says the PLO is prepared to purchase Jewish settlements located in the land it wants as its state, according to reports in the Arab business paper AL AALAM AL YOM. "The Palestinian Authority does not plan to break up the Israeli settlements which will be abandoned within the framework of the final arrangement. The settlement buildings will be used to house Palestinian refugees." The paper, which values the settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza at US$10 billion, reports recent "secret negotiations in Rome between representatives of Israelis and Palestinian investors and representative of the Gulf States to consider the possibility of purchasing [them]."

Sources: INDEPENDENT MEDIA REVIEW AND ANALYSIS, GLOBES, SHOMRON NEWS SERVICE, ARUTZ 7, CHANNEL 2 TV, THE JERUSALEM POST, HA'ARETZ, MAARIV, THE INDEPENDENT.

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