NEWS BRIEFS

Anti-freedom bill dead?

A number of Christian groups in Israel accepted a statement on April 1 undertaking not to engage in dubious missionising practices. In return, Labour Knesset member Nissim Zvilli dropped his co-sponsorship of a private "anti-missionary" bill which has drawn sharp criticism from Christians world-wide. The Christian groups said: "We deeply respect the Jewish people ... and will therefore not engage in activities which have as their intention to alienate them from their tradition and community". In response to concerns that Jews were being materially induced to change their religion, they continued: "Nor will we exploit, for the benefit of our denominational interests, such economic, social or psychological needs as may emerge." They made it clear, however, that they would continue to "exercise our right and duty to commend our faith to others" while maintaining "the standards of morality, sensitivity and respect of other faiths ..." Opponents of the bill said it stifled religious freedom and threatened Israel's reputation as a democratic state. A separate bill, soon to be introduced by an orthodox party, would make attempts to convert anyone to another religion punishable by a three-year jail term.

'Iran has nuclear bombs'

The Jerusalem Post last month obtained purported Iranian government documents discussing Tehran's successful efforts to purchase nuclear warheads from former Soviet republics. According to the documents, "Iran received several nuclear warheads from a former Soviet republic [presumed to be Kazakhstan] in the early 1990s and Russian experts maintained them", the Post reported exclusively. Kazakh Foreign Minister, Qasymzhomart Toqayev, denied the report.

Arabs reject Lebanon pull-back offer

Israel called the Arab world's bluff in early April, announcing its willingness to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon, conditional on the Lebanese army ensuring quiet on its side of the international border. But as expected, reaction from the Lebanese government (essentially a puppet regime of the Syrians) and from Damascus was less than enthusiastic. Lebanon demanded an unconditional withdrawal, while Syria insisted this be tied to negotiations leading to Israel relinquishing the Golan Heights. Israel's cabinet voted in favour of implementing the 20-year-old UN resolution 425, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal and the deployment of a UN force to restore "international peace and security and [assist] the government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area ..." (Resolution 425 also calls for "strict respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognised boundaries", a demand clearly violated by the continued presence of Syrian occupation troops in Lebanon. Indeed, a later UN resolution, # 520 of September 1982, called for the removal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanese territory.) Both Washington and the UN welcomed Israel's initiative and urged further talks on the subject. Israel is particularly concerned about leaving its northern flank vulnerable to Hizb'Allah rocket attacks, and thus wants Lebanon to disband the Islamist militia and exercise its sovereignty up to the border after the withdrawal. Israel also wants the future safety of its Christian Lebanese allies to be secured.

Israel, the US is behind you

US congressmen last month called for fairer policies towards the Jewish state. Eighty-one out of 100 senators signed a letter urging President Bill Clinton to allow Israel to determine its own security requirements in negotiations with the Palestinians on withdrawal from Judea-Samaria. They said although Israel had ceded to PA civil administration territory inhabited by 98 per cent of the Palestinians (virtually all of the Gaza Strip and 27 per cent of Judea-Samaria), "many Palestinians continue to use terror and violence as a political tool against Israel". The senators said a shift in Washington's role from facilitating peace talks to pressuring Israel would be "particularly unfair and counterproductive since Israel has kept the promises it made at Oslo, and today is prepared to withdraw from even more territory ... on the other hand, the Palestinians have not provided Israel with adequate security and Chairman Arafat has refused to conclude negotiations for the remaining interim status issues, even though Israel's current offers move the Palestinian people significantly forward in their quest for self-governance." Another, similar letter circulated in the House of Representatives.

Israel's friends fall foul of PA

Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of failing to meet its obligations to protect Arabs suspected of working with Israel, 67 of whom have been murdered in the four years since the self-rule administration was established. "In contravention of agreements, the Palestinian Authority and its intelligence services marked out these people with the intention of frightening them," the prime minister's office said in a statement last month. In a section on confidence-building measures, the Oslo Accords said Palestinians who maintained links with Israeli authorities should not be harassed or left open to revenge attacks. Of the 67 suspected "collaborators" killed, nine were murdered while prisoners in PA jails, the statement said. The two most recent cases occurred in April.
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