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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                     Feb. 23, 1995, V3, #37
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Is Syria Serious About Peace?

By Al Pessin (Jerusalem)

A senior Israeli official has questioned whether Syria is serious about wanting peace with Israel, and says it is time to find out. Israel's deputy foreign minister, Yossi Beilin, says he had assumed Syria had made a strategic decision to seek peace with Israel. But he says lately he is not so sure.

Beilin told Israel Radio Syria could be using participation in occasional and low-level peace talks as a way to gain favor in Western countries, while not really trying to make peace. Still, he says, peace with Syria is possible this year.

Beilin endorsed the idea of another US diplomatic mission to Syria and Israel by the coordinator of Middle East policy Dennis Ross. Beilin says such a visit could clarify whether the Syrian leadership is serious about making peace.

The Israel-Syria talks have been bogged down by Syria's insistence that Israel promise in advance to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights, and Israel's demand that Syria define the extent of the peaceful relationship it wants with Israel. In recent weeks, Syria has repeatedly postponed planned talks between the Israeli and Syrian ambassadors to the United States.

Beilin says a recent statement by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the extent of withdrawal will match the extent of peace was very significant and should have been enough to bring the Syrians back to the negotiating table.

In the past, Beilin has been optimistic about the prospects of concluding an Israel-Syria peace accord this year. And he has warned that because of next year's Israeli elections, if agreement is not reached in the next several months, it might not be reached for a long time to come. Now, he says, he is concerned that is what might happen, because the current negotiations are moving very, very slowly.

Could Beirut's Pollution Flow to Tel Aviv?

By Edward Yeranian (Beirut)

Reports of environmental calamity frequently surface in Lebanon, only to be forgotten amid the social and economic problems which take precedence. In a country where the public has grown accustomed to living with vast piles of garbage during 15 years of civil war, a January report by the environmental group Greenpeace has provoked unusual fury against the government. Greenpeace says 10,000 barrels of toxic waste may lie buried somewhere in Lebanon.

Few know what lies buried in the azure depths of the Mediterranean Sea, off Lebanon's once pristine shores. Local residents say during 15 years of civil war, the country's only incinerator broke down, and tons of garbage were hauled to a makeshift dump overlooking the sea.

Environmentalists say much of the refuse eventually fell in from erosion, and still more was given a push. To add to the problem, newspaper reports say disreputable businesses imported refuse from abroad, and some of it was toxic. The absence of law and order, complain the same reports, made many rich. Reports say attempts to hide the waste may now be making people sick.

Most worrisome to public officials is 16,000 barrels of toxic waste brought to Lebanon from Italy in 1987. The exact whereabouts of the barrels is a mystery, although 6,000 were reportedly shipped back to Italy in 1990. The environmental organization, Greenpeace, alleges that the remaining 10,000 barrels lie buried somewhere in Lebanon. A secret 1988 army report says that some of the barrels were dumped in the sea.

While Prime Minister Rafiqal Hal Hariri ordered an official inquiry to find both the culprits and the barrels of waste within 10 days, two goats where found dead in the Bekaa valley, apparently from water poisoning. With rumors of water pollution rampant, the crisis soon developed into an outright scare, and bottles of mineral water quickly disappeared from store shelves.

Minister of the Environment, Samir Moqbel, under fire from fellow lawmakers and from the public, took pains to reassure citizens that the government was doing everything possible to locate and remove the hidden barrels of toxic waste. "Even if the government reaches a dead end in its investigation of where the barrels are buried, our ministry is ready to dispatch a team of European experts using equipment designed to locate these barrels under land or under sea."

If the Lebanese public is suspicious that government officials are lying to them, Dr. May Jurbi, professor of public health at the American University of Beirut, dismisses fears that there is any immediate danger to Lebanon's water supply from toxic waste. The real danger to the water supply for the time being, she says, is from raw sewage. "Our natural water sources are exposed mainly to fecal contamination. In terms of chemical contamination, physical and chemical contamination, still it's building up, but it has not reached a critical level."

The entire waste problem, says one expert, is a by-product of the long civil war. When people spend months in a bomb shelter, he says, their only thought is to survive. Their last concern is about what to do with the garbage.

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