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Syria Wins an Olympic Gold Medal

The first Arab athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics is a national hero in syria. Ghada Shoua-a won top honors in the Heptathlon event. Syria is planning a hero's red-carpet welcome for her. One high school graduate, herself a runner, says Ghada's win is important for Syria's image in the West. "We are not terrorists," she says. "We are a people looking for peace." Another sports fan says Syria's win at the Olympics shows the world that the Middle East is not only about hatred and violence.

King Hussein Meets With Assad

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Damascus)

Jordan's King Hussein was in Syria Saturday for several hours of private talks with President Hafez al Assad as part of a reconciliation effort between the two leaders. Relations have been tense since Jordan signed a separate peace with Israel two years ago. The talks are in part focussing on how to get Syria and Israel back to the negotiating table after nearly six months of suspension.

Jordan has already signed a peace accord with the Jewish state. That separate agreement, signed two years ago, angered Assad and soured relations between the neighbors. Assad and King Hussein held their first face-to-face meeting in three years last June on the sidelines of the Arab summit in Cairo. Now both leaders are part of a greater Arab effort at coordination in the face of a new hardline government in Israel.

King Hussein's visit, one week after Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat is yet another significant symbol of that new found solidarity.

Germany May Seek Priebke's Extradition

By George Meek (VOA-Rio de Janeiro)

Former Nazi Capt. Erich Priebke has appealed a decision by Argentina to bar him from returning there. Priebke is in Rome, awaiting possible extradition to Germany after an Italian court decided not to prosecute him for war crimes.

Germany says it might press for the extradition of a former Nazi. A spokesman for the German Justice Ministry said he expects the government will go ahead and apply for the extradition of Priebke from Italy.

Argentine Interior Minister Carlos Corach says his government respects Italy's decision in Priebke's favor, but deeply regrets it. He says on express orders of President Carlos Menem, Priebke will not be allowed to re-enter Argentina because it could lead to civil unrest.

Priebke's lawyer, Pedro Bianchi, filed a motion to have the order revoked, calling it an arbitrary measure based on political considerations. Bianchi said the former Nazi has been a model citizen in Argentina for nearly 50 years. The ban was announced after leaders of Argentina's large Jewish community strongly protested the decision of the Italian court.

Last Thursday, the court decided not to prosecute Priebke for his role in the slaying of 335 civilians in caves near Rome in 1944. He admitted taking part in the massacre, but said he was acting on orders. The Italians were killed in reprisal for the slaying of 33 German soldiers by partisans. Argentine Foreign Minister Guido di Tella called Priebke a repugnant character. He says Argentina has received immigrants with open arms, but is not prepared to accept criminals. Several Nazis,including Holocaust architect Adolph Eichmann, hid in Argentina after World War 2.

Priebke was extradited to Italy last November, after living quietly under his own name in the southern Argentine city of Bariloche since 1948. His family expressed satisfaction that charges against him were dropped in Rome, but disappointment that he will not be allowed to return to Argentina.

Priebke was interviewed in his jail cell by Turin's La Stampa newspaper and blamed the Jews for his problems. "I believe they're against me because I've become a symbol -- perhaps the last Nazi to be tried for World War 2 crimes. I'm the last survivor. I'm the last of the Mohicans."

Cabinet Says Yes to West Bank Settlements

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's government has decided to ease building restrictions in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Cabinet was vague on how much construction it will permit. This is the first decision on the issue of settlements in the disputed areas by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government.

The decision reverses the previous Labor government's ban on construction in the territories, and frees for occupancy thousands of apartments already constructed. However, all new construction plans must be approved by Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, and must be in line with the state budget.

Netanyahu says that he wants to correct what he calls past discrimination against Jewish settlements by the previous government which had curbed construction as part of its peace talks with the Palestinians. But the decision is far less than what the settlers themselves want.

The 144 settlements -- home to 140,000 Jews -- are viewed by the 2 million Palestinians in the territories as an obstacle to peace. Palestinians say any settlement expansion will violate the peace agreements signed by Israel and would endanger future negotiations.

The fact that any specific expansion will require government approval seems to be an attempt to satisfy the settlers, without angering the United States or Israel's Arab peace partners.

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