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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 7, 1996 V4, #23
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Israeli-Syrian Talks will Continue Despite Election

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-Damascus)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher has won the agreement of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to continue negotiations with Israel, even though Israel is expected to announce early elections next week. The prospect that Israel will have elections in May had cast doubt on Syria's attitude toward negotiations with Israel. However, after some delay, Christopher managed to get Assad's agreement to continue the current negotiations.

"In the last two days, I've had good discussions with President Assad and Prime Minister Peres in which we've reviewed the progress made at the talks at the Wye Conference Center in Maryland. Both of the leaders agreed that headway has been made in the talks and they should continue. To that end, the talks will resume in Maryland about the 26th of February in the same format as before."

That format combines Israeli, Syrian and American diplomats with generals from both Israel and Syria. The secretary of state says new rounds will start initially on security arrangements to follow an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and will broaden to include discussions on normalization of relations and economic ties that are of special interest to Israel.

Christopher had said the US will continue its mediation role no matter what scenario is decided in Israel. He told reporters, Assad feels the same way.

PLO Leadership Postpones Charter Decision

By Peyman Pejman (VOA-Cairo)

Top Palestinian leaders have ended a meeting in the Sinai without deciding whether to change a controversial clause in the PLO Charter. Members of the PLO's Executive Committee ended their talks without settling a question that could have negative impacts on Middle East peace talks.

A 1984 clause in the Charter, the equivalent of a Palestinian Constitution, calls for the destruction of Israel, with whom Palestinians were officially at war until recently. The Israeli government has said it may suspend future rounds of peace talks with the Palestinians unless the clause is taken out.

PLO leader Yasir Arafat promised in September he would change the Charter within two months after the Palestinians convene their legislative council. The elections were held Jan. 20. But earlier this week, Arafat seemed to be backtracking, saying he alone does not have the authority to change the Charter. Instead, he said he would recommend to the Palestinians parliament-in-exile, the Palestine National Council, to make the necessary amendments to the Charter.

But the Palestinian parliament cannot meet unless it is asked to convene by the Executive Committee. And although Arafat did bring up the subject in the Executive Committee meeting on Monday, he did not get all the support he needed from committee members.

In the end, committee members decided to meet again at the end of February to have further discussions on convening the parliament. Some members say the entire Charter needs to be rewritten, not just one clause and that process could take longer than Israel may be willing to wait.

Egyptian Muslim Divorce Law Strengthened

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

The Egyptian Parliament has passed a law to make it more difficult for fundamentalist Muslim lawyers to get the court to divorce those they claim have insulted islam. But secular writers and intellectuals targeted by the fundamentalists say the parliament has not gone far enough.

Fundamentalist lawyers have turned increasingly to the courts to censor films and writings and even to divorce those they accuse of insulting Islam. Now the government is trying to make it more difficult to use the legal system for ideological motives, at least in family-law cases.

The new Hesba law, as it is called, requires a lawyer filing for the divorce of a third party to present his case to the public prosecutor who will then decide if it warrants court action.

Last year, a group of lawyers convinced the court to separate a Cairo University professor from his wife on the grounds he is an apostate and therefore cannot be married to a Muslim. The lawyers charged Nasr Abu Zeid's writings about the Koran insulted Islam. The couple read about the lawsuit in the newspapers.

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