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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Sept. 20, 1995, V3, #173
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Pilgrimages to Israel Increase

Tourism Minister Uzi Baram has concluded arrangements with Christian groups, especially in the "Bible Belt" in the southern U.S., for increased religious pilgrimages to Israel. It was announced that there has been a sharp increase in tourism to Israel from Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea.

Iran: Act of War if Hijacked Plane and People are Not Returned

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The 177 passengers and crew members of an Iranian airliner have spent the night in Israel after being hijacked Tuesday morning and spending the rest of the day at the center of a diplomatic dispute and a criminal investigation.

An Israeli government spokesman says the decision was made to keep the passengers overnight because the interrogation of two hijackers and the airplane's crew was continuing. The spokesman also said it might have been dangerous for the pilot to try to fly late at night after a long, tiring day. Portable beds were moved into the building at an Israeli air force base, where the passengers had sat and waited all afternoon.

Their aircraft -- a Boeing 707 -- was hijacked by a flight attendant wielding a pistol while on a domestic flight Tuesday morning. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin says he allowed the plane to land because it was running low on fuel and had already been denied permission to land in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Israel Radio broadcast a tape of part of the pilot's conversation with an Israeli air traffic controller.

(Controller) Make a left turn to heading 1-8-0 (degrees), maintain at 2-4-0 (altitude). (Pilot) make a left turn to heading 1-8-0, and he advised, sir, we are hijacked and we are in a distress condition.

The pilot said he barely had enough fuel to make it to Tel Aviv's airport, and he would have to make a crash landing if he were not allowed into Israeli airspace. Rabin gave permission for the plane to land at the Ovda Air Force base in the Negev desert near Eilat in Southern Israel, closer to the plane's location and far from any populated area.

"I did not want to be responsible for a plane crash," Rabin told Israel Radio.

The pilot requested and received specific directions to the base, saying he did not have any maps of Israel or its airports on board to guide him.

On the aircraft, the passengers knew they had been hijacked but did not have any additional information for several hours. They reported they did not even know where they were until shortly before they left the airplane, two hours after landing. The passengers -- including several children and more than 20 women in black chadors -- were taken to a terminal building at the air base where they were checked by Israeli military doctors and given food and drinks.

Israeli officials say the hijacker first requested political asylum in the United States, and then said he wanted to stay in Israel. Five other passengers have also reportedly asked not to be returned to Iran. A senior government spokesman says Rabin will decide when the plane will return to Iran and what will happen to the hijacker and the others who want to stay.

Iran has accused Israel of planning the hijacking, and demanded that the plane and all the people on it be returned. If not, Iran has said, it would view Israel's actions as an act of war.

Some in Israel have said the government should try to trade the plane and its passengers for an Israeli airman who has been missing for nine years and is believed to be held by Iran. But officials have said they do not plan to play politics with the hijacked passengers.

Hebron Negotiations Enter Fourth Day

By David Gollust (VOA-Cairo)

A marathon set of negotiations on the extension of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank is moving into a fourth day at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO leader Yasir Arafat have been meeting virtually around the clock to try to get an agreement, but the talks are difficult.

Arafat was reported ready to leave the negotiations late Tuesday night -- angry over Israeli troop withdrawal proposals for the West Bank that he viewed as insufficient. But after reportedly consulting by phone with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, Arafat decided to remain in Taba for what will be a fourth day of grueling talks.

The two sides have been meeting virtually around-the-clock since early Sunday with the hope of completing the long-delayed autonomy accord in time for a White House signing ceremony tomorrow.

It appears increasingly unlikely now that goal can be met, with neither side able to predict when the extraordinary set of meetings might end.

Considerable progress was reported Tuesday on what has been the main stumbling block in the negotiations -- security arrangements for the West Bank town of Hebron where several hundred Jewish settlers live among more than 100,000 Palestinians.

Israel is said to have offered a phased withdrawal of its army troops from the town, which has religious significance for both Jews and Muslims, while Israeli and Palestinian police would continue to provide security around the settlements.

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