NEWS BRIEFS

Americans favour Israel

Fifty-seven per cent of Americans have a generally favourable opinion of Israel, and 58 per cent sympathise with Israel over the Palestinians, according to a recent New York Times opinion survey. This figure is up from just 10 per cent a year ago, and the highest "in the 20 years that various pollsters have asked Americans which side in the Mideast conflict they favoured". Almost half said that they regarded Israel as a "special place". However, "if Israel seemed in danger of being defeated by Arab armies, only 22 per cent would favour sending troops ..." The poll also reflected frustration over the slow pace of Middle East peace efforts. Only one-quarter of respondents said PM Binyamin Netanyahu had mostly kept Israel's commitments with the Palestinians; and one-quarter said PLO chairman Yasser Arafat had kept his side of the bargain. The newspaper said the poll results indicated that support for Israel in the US was clearly not restricted to the American Jewish community.

Ron Arad still missing

More than 4,200 days ago, an Israeli airforce jet was shot down over Lebanon. Since that day in October 1986, navigator Ron Arad has been missing. He remains incarcerated in Lebanon, Syria or Iran--if he is still alive. On his 40th birthday in early May, Arad's crewmates flew three Phantom jets over Israel, a gap in the formation bearing witness to their missing comrade. Special events were held world-wide to focus attention on the importance to Israel of his return. Jewish students demonstrated outside Iranian and Syrian embassies in several capitals. Members of Arad's family and supporters have accused the government and security services of failing to do enough to secure his return. For more information: <http://www.ron-arad.org.il>

Achille Lauro killer roams free

The leader of Palestinian hijackers who seized the luxury Italian liner Achille Lauro in 1985 and murdered a disabled American citizen, has returned to live in Gaza City. A petition was quickly filed in Israel's High Court calling for the arrest and trial in Israel of Mohammed Abbas (Abu Abbas). Abbas told his supporters on his return: "I have no regrets about what I did. I am proud to have been privileged to take part in the struggle." Abbas' men shot dead 69-year-old wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, and had other hostages throw his body overboard. Yediot Ahronot reported that Abbas' entry to Gaza was authorised by Israel's Shin Bet domestic security service as a gesture to the Palestinian security service, against the advice of Defence Ministry officials. Just how much Arafat himself had to do with the Achille Lauro hijacking is unclear. Abbas and Arafat reportedly held talks in Tunis two days before the ship was seized. According to Israeli intelligence reports and information relayed by Italian Defence Minister Giovanni Spadolini, "the terrorists were in contact, via the ship's radio telephone, with a PLF [Palestine Liberation Front] co-ordinator in Genoa. He, in turn, got in touch with the PLO headquarters in Tunis for final instructions." Arafat's relationship with Abbas, and the fact Abbas was a member of the PLO's Executive Committee from 1984 to 1991, led to the US decision to refuse Arafat a visa to enter the US to address the UN General Assembly in November 1988.

Bring our boys home

Two Dutch Christian women lobbying for the location and return of Israeli soldiers missing since the 1992 Lebanon war met PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in recent weeks to urge his co-operation. Christa Rhodius and Jeannet van Duuren challenged Arafat to make good on a December 1993 promise to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat had given Rabin half of the army dogtag belonging to missing soldier Zachary Baumel, along with a written undertaking to hand over the other half, along with more information relating to Baumel's whereabouts. Rhodius and Van Duuren said Arafat had said he would investigate more. Four Israeli soldiers, Baumel, Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman, and Ron Arad (see article alongside), remain missing despite many attempts to have them returned. The bodies of two others, Yosef Fink and Rachamim Alsheikh, were returned by Hizb'Allah last year in return for Israel's release of 45 detainees.

HIllary's Palestine: Blunder or test-balloon?

Israel and American Jewish leaders reacted angrily this month to US first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks in support of the creation of a Palestinian state. Officials in Washington hastened to deny that the comments-- made in a televised broadcast to Arab and Israeli teenagers attending a youth peace conference--reflected official US policy. "It would be in the long-term interests of peace in the Middle East for there to be a state of Palestine ... a functioning modern state that is on the same footing as other states," Rodham Clinton said. Her spokeswoman, Marsha Berry, then put out a statement asserting that "these remarks are her own personal view. The administration position on this matter has not changed." White House spokesman Mike McCurry denied that Rodham Clinton's remarks had been "part of any kind of calculated strategy". Since Oslo, US statements routinely say the sensitive statehood issue is one for Israelis and Palestinians themselves to work out.

On the verge of six million

Israel's total population stands at 5,940,000, a growth of more than five million since the rebirth of the state in 1948. The population grew by 2,4 per cent over the past year, compared with an average eight per cent growth each year during Israel's first decade. About 81 per cent of the population is Jewish, almost 15 per cent is Muslim, and the remainder is Christian and Druse. Thirty-five per cent of Israelis are children under 18, compared with 19-25 per cent in other industrialised countries. The number of Jewish households grew by 33 per cent between 1986 and 1996 to 1,3 million, while the number of Israeli Arab and other households rose by 67 per cent to 202,000. The average number of children in Jewish homes is 2,22, and in Israeli Arab and other homes, 3,08.
Sources: New York Times, Arutz 7, The Jerusalem Post, Yediot Ahronot, Central Bureau of Statistics, Israeli & Global News, CNN, Voice of Israel
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