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>Israel Faxx
>Jan. 4, 1995, V2, #2

El Al Cancels Flight to Moscow

El Al, Israel's national air carrier, canceled a regularly scheduled flight to Moscow on Monday after Russian authorities refused to allow the airline's security personnel to carry weapons.

Russian authorities reportedly asked El Al security personnel arriving on a flight last week to give up their weapons at the airport. El Al says they will not resume service to Russia until there is a return to prior arrangements which allowed Israelis to carry weapons.

Cabinet Offers Efrat Compromise

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

A special committee of Israel's Cabinet has approved construction of 280 housing units adjacent to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The area, near Bethlehem, has been the focus of a series of demonstrations during the past week.

The special committee, chaired by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, has approved construction of the new housing on a site adjacent to the settlement of Efrat. The government is offering that site instead of another one further away from the settlement and adjacent to a Palestinian village.

The original construction plan sparked several demonstrations by Palestinians and Israelis opposed to the project, some involving clashes with Israeli troops. Opponents of the construction said it would hurt peace efforts and violate Palestinian property rights. The settlers claim they purchased the land legally more than 10 years ago.

The government decision is not likely to fully satisfy either side, but officials hope allowing some construction on a less controversial site will defuse the dispute and remove one of the many flashpoints which threaten to disrupt implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

Israelis/Palestinians Meet Amid Accusations

By Kim Reid (Cairo)

Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Moussa has hosted talks between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Chief PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath in Cairo. The two sides met amid accusations that neither is honoring the Israeli / Palestinian peace accord.

Negotiator Shaath says two things now stand in the way of the peace process: what he calls the suspicious shooting of three Palestinian policemen Monday night in Gaza, and the expansion of Israeli settlements in Israeli-occupied territory.

"I think what needs to be done is to abandon the whole idea of creating new settlements or thickening old ones. I think what needs to be done is to have a total and complete halt to settlement activities, if we are to wait until the permanent settlement to negotiate the permanent status of these settlements."

Peres says he has some complaints of his own about Palestinian activity under the new self-rule. Israeli officials say Palestinians are trying to act as an independent state instead of a self-rule area.

Palestinians Mourn Policemen Who Died

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

Several thousand people -- including Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat -- have attended an emotion-charged funeral in the autonomous Gaza Strip for three Palestinian policemen killed Monday night by Israeli troops. The crowd chanted anti-Israel and anti-US slogans during the funeral procession.

Palestinian officials called the shootings "unjustified" and "unprovoked," and said Israel bears full responsibility for the deaths of the three policemen, all in their early 20s. Earlier, officials had said four were killed, but that was corrected Tuesday morning.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the shootings the result of a misunderstanding and said the Palestinian side bears most of the responsibility for the confusion.

But a senior Palestinian official, Nabil abu Irdeineh, took that statement as something of an admission. "The foreign minister, Shimon Peres, said that there was a misunderstanding. I think this was an indirect recognition of their big mistake."

Abu Irdeineh called Monday night's incident an unjustified attack by Israeli forces inside the autonomous Palestinian area. Israel says one of its patrols along the Israel-Gaza border was fired on from inside Gaza and the soldiers gave chase, eventually reaching a building in the Strip.

At that location, there was a shootout in which the Palestinian policemen were killed. But Palestinian officials say their officers did not start the shooting. Both sides have launched investigations.

Israeli newspapers speculate that someone else may have fired on the Israeli patrol and then fled, leaving the Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police to blame each other.

But at least one member of the Israeli Cabinet is skeptical of that explanation. Economics Minister Shimon Shitreet says Palestinian radicals are joining the new Palestinian police force, and then using their status to carry out attacks against Israelis. He says Monday night's shooting and the Christmas day bombing in Jerusalem are examples.

"We should see it as a very grave (incident) and a source of great concern for us because this suggests a pattern of activity -- that Hamas people join the police, have access to armaments and have access to perhaps better transportation, and they use their status to commit crimes."

The Palestinian spokesman, abu Irdeineh, would not respond directly to that charge, saying such things should be discussed in private.

Both abu Irdeineh and Peres said incidents such as Monday's shootout hurt the peace process, but both also indicated the negotiations will continue.

Israel's Population -- 5.46 Million

As Israel begins 1995, the country's population is estimated at 5.46 million residents, including 4.43 million Jews (81.1%), about 777,000 Muslims (14.2%), about 161,000 Christians (3.0%), and 92,000 Druze (1.7%). In 1994, Israel's population grew by about 134,000, an increase of approximately 2.5%, similar to that registered in the previous year.

Of 1994's total growth, nearly 60% resulted from natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths), and the rest from immigration. During the year, almost 80,000 immigrants arrived in Israel, 4% more than in 1993, when about 77,000 immigrants came. In 1994, 85% of all immigrants who arrived in Israel came from the former Soviet Union.

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