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>PD NOVEMBER 16, 1994, V2 #205

Israel Turns Over Welfare/Tourism Control to Palestinians

By Al Pessin (Ramallah)

Israel has given the Palestinian Autonomy Authority control over tourism and welfare services in the West Bank -- a step toward the full autonomy expected to be put in place in coming months. In Ramallah, officials from the two sides signed documents handing over authority for welfare services.

There have been quite a few signing ceremonies in Israel in recent weeks, mostly involving kings and presidents and prime ministers in grand surroundings using fountain pens to sign fancy documents in leather binders. On Tuesday in Ramallah, things were simpler. In a room with peeling paint and decorations made by children, officials used their own ball point pens to sign plain-paper documents passed from hand to hand in white plastic folders.

At this simple ceremony at the local welfare office, and another one in Bethlehem covering tourism, Israel continued the process of handing over control of life in the West Bank to the new Palestinian Authority. Israel gave up control of education in September, and is to do the same for health care and taxation by the end of the month.

With anti-peace terrorism continuing -- including a bomb-throwing attack which slightly wounded two Israelis Tuesday morning -- the chief of Israel's administration in the territories, General Gadi Zohar, says there is a message in the continuing implementation of the peace accord.

"For these people who are in doubt, this means that we are continuing and the Palestinians are continuing in the same way on the road to peace. And hopefully it will succeed in what they are doing here and what they are going to do here and it will give the people the hope that down the road there are changes and a new way for everybody."

Zohar acknowledged that giving control of welfare to the Palestinian Authority will not change the fact that many such services are provided by the political wing of the radical group Hamas. But he warned that Israel is ready to move against Hamas if it uses its greater freedom to be involved in social services to launch terrorist attacks.

The Palestinian Deputy Minister of Welfare, Diab Ayoush, said Tuesday's ceremonies were important steps in the effort to build Palestinian society. He said the Palestinians can handle their new responsibilities, but need help to finance them. "We have our own power, I mean manpower, and we need in addition to that help and funds from the world who are interested in the peace process."

Ramallah is still under Israeli control, but Palestinians raised their flag over the city's welfare office on Tuesday, as the documents were signed inside. Talks start next week on details of the plan to grant the Palestinians full autonomy in the West Bank, like they already have in Gaza and Jericho.

Rabin Visits Suicide Bombing Site

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has visited the site of last Friday's suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip, and called on the Palestinian Authority there to do more to fight terrorism.

Rabin visited the checkpoint where three Israeli reserve officers were killed last Friday by a suicide bomber. He acknowledged that such attacks are difficult to prevent. But he called on the Palestinian Authority to make a more serious effort to fight the radical groups that organize and pay for them.

The authority has pledged to do so, and has arrested almost 200 alleged radicals since Friday's bombing. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, said Israel is partly responsible for the terrorism because it allowed the radical groups to grow when it controlled Gaza in the 1970s and '80s.

On Tuesday, Rabin also visited several other Israeli army checkpoints in autonomous Gaza, which protect Jewish settlements in the Strip. He did not visit any of the settlements, but he said they will remain in place as the peace accord is implemented -- in spite of the difficulty of defending them.

Israel and the Palestinians are to discuss the future of the settlements starting in 1996.

Israelis Concerned About Possible Cuts in U.S. Foreign Aid

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Israeli officials are trying to ease concerns in Israel that the new US Congress, controlled by Republicans, will reduce the $3 billion in aid Israel receives every year. Prime Minister Rabin told reporters that maintaining the level of aid will be one of his goals in the United States. But he also said he is not particularly concerned about it.

The prime minister said the current level of US aid to Israel began under President Reagan -- a Republican -- and he believes members of both parties understand the reasons for it. He said only a strong Israel can work to prevent wars, contribute to stability in the region, and take risks for peace.

An Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday that Republican leaders are considering eliminating the $1.2 billion of US civilian aid given annually to Israel. But Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday he is confident that will not happen.

The two men spoke as Rabin prepared to leave for the United States. He will start his trip in California, and will travel to Washington for meetings about the peace process later in the week, with Syria at the top of the agenda.

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