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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 12, 1996 V4, #26
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Elections Expected for Late May

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has decided to call early general elections. The present Labor Party led government has a mandate until October, but at a news conference Sunday night, Peres said elections will be held at the earliest possible date. The decision to bring ahead general elections comes as no surprise. Since the Palestinian elections Jan. 20, Israel's domestic political activity has gone into high gear.

Peres took over as prime minister after the assassination last November of Yitzhak Rabin. At his news conference Sunday, he spent several minutes describing his last moments with Rabin before he was shot. Peres called on the opposition to conduct a non-violent, restrained campaign that, he said, will prove to the world that Israel has returned to itself after the assassination.

Peres leads opposition Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the polls. The most recent polls show over 50 percent for Peres to between 30 and 36 percent for Netanyahu in what will be the first direct election for prime minister in Israel. In parliamentary elections, the polls give a Likud-led coalition only 36 seats to 45 for the labor party. Together with the left wing parties, Labor would control a clear blocking majority in parliament.

A good part of this political advantage is thought to be the result of a sympathy vote following Rabin's assassination. Sympathy that may not last through October, the originally scheduled date for elections.

Peres has enough support in parliament to move up the elections, which are expected to take place in late May. The Likud opposition says it will not oppose the move. Likud last week announced a coalition with Tsomet, a right-wing secular party.

The main issue in the election campaign is sure to be the extremely divisive peace process -- between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria. Announcing his decision to call early elections, Peres clearly indicated his party would continue the path begun under Rabin, but Israeli government officials have already hinted that tough issues are unlikely to be resolved during the election period.

Israel, U.S. Successfully Test Anti-Missile Laser System

The Pentagon announced that the first trial of a jointly developed Israeli-American anti-missile laser beam system was successful. In the test, the laser beam system succeeded in intercepting an unarmed Katuysha rocket at short-range. The trial took place last week at White Sands military base in New Mexico and was carried out by the Strategic Space Command of the American Ground Corps.

Project Director Gerald Wilson said at the conclusion of the test, "At this stage, we believe that we now possess all of the necessary information to move on to the next stage in Project Nautilus." Israel reportedly played a central role in the development of the system, and the successful trial will result in an increased budget for the project.

Israel Radio reported that the successful trial was an important technological achievement, but quoted Defense Ministry sources as saying the project still has a long way to go. Yediot Aharonot reported that Israel is also cooperating with the U.S. in developing an anti-ballistic missile system based on unmanned planes equipped with sensors capable of identifying missile launches. For this project, Israel is developing both unmanned planes capable of remaining airborne for extended time periods as well as interception missiles.

Israel Aircraft Industries has demonstrated that such planes can stay airborne for approximately 50 hours.

Israel Considers Railway Connecting West Bank and Gaza

Israel is weighing a proposal to lay railway lines to connect the Palestinian areas of self-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The idea is being examined as an alternative to a previous proposal, which is reportedly more expensive and complex, to establish an elevated highway over the Negev. The highway had been favored by Foreign Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Member Nabil Shaath.

Israeli Editorial Opinion

Ha'aretz notes that "the Likud's agreement is not necessary if Peres secures the required majority" to dissolve the Knesset and hold early elections, but reminds its readers that "the country's political tradition has usually inclined towards the achieving of early agreement on this matter between the coalition and opposition."

The paper supports draft legislation to allow all those who will be 18 by election day to vote, and calls for "patience on the part of the public on the one hand, and restraint by the politicians on the other," during the campaign.

The editors point out that "the results of the elections and the government that will be established in their wake, will march Israel towards the year 2000."

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