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>Israel Faxx
>PD Dec. 31, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 237

Ramadan Takes Its Toll

Israeli livestock breeders are complaining of an increase in thefts of their animals, in anticipation of the upcoming Arab month of Ramadan. During the month, Moslems fast during the day, and hold feasts each night. The damage this year has so far reached 1.2 million shekels.

Weizman Visits India for New Ties

By Michael Drudge (VOA-New Delhi)

Israeli President Ezer Weizman is visiting New Delhi as India and Israel build up commercial ties. Weizman is the first Israeli head of state to come to India.

Weizman is touring India on a trip combining an effort to strengthen bilateral relations with a bit of personal nostalgia. The Israeli president was last in India 50 years ago when he served with Britain's RAF in Bangalore, during World War 2. India and Israel were then ruled by the British.

The countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. During the Cold War, India tilted toward the Arab states and supported Palestinian Independence. The Israeli ambassador in New Delhi, Yehoyada Haim, says the normalization of relations has led to a boom in trade.

"Taking into consideration five years of relations, I think that this is unbelievable. We reached over the $600 million trade between the two countries."

The ambassador said Israel is considering a free-trade arrangement with India. Weizman is accompanied by a contingent of Israeli businessmen who are looking to make deals in such fields as telecommunications, aviation and drip irrigation technology.

The countries signed agreements Monday on agricultural, industrial and technological cooperation, and cultural exchanges.

Hebron Summit Expected

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

In Jerusalem, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have held intensive talks to conclude an agreement on Israeli troop redeployment in Hebron. The talks precede an anticipated summit today between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. Both Palestinian and Israeli officials say they are very close to reaching a deal on the disputed city.

Hebron is the last of seven occupied West Bank cities to which Israel agreed to give self-rule under a 1995 agreement with the PLO. The handover in Hebron has been delayed by Israeli security concerns, chiefly with regard to protecting 400 Jewish settlers in the heart of the town of 100,000 Palestinians.

An official in Netanyahu's office says a summit meeting today with Arafat is possible, if the Palestinians drop some last-minute demands. Palestinians want joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols at the "Cave of the Patriarchs," a site revered by both Jews and Muslims. Netanyahu rejects any shared control, insisting Israel alone will maintain security at the shrine.

Palestinians are also demanding the release of Palestinians jailed in Israel, and they want a timetable for Israel's troop withdrawal from West Bank rural areas, as specified in the original autonomy agreement.

Most of Israel on Strike

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

In Israel, hundreds of thousands of workers have walked off their jobs at the order of a national labor union, effectively shutting down the country. The labor strike is the largest popular protest yet against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

The strike has shut down the country's seaports, post office, banks, the telecommunications company, the stock market, utility companies, radio stations and government offices. Hospitals and firefighters are dealing with emergencies only. Ben Gurion International Airport, which was paralyzed by a wildcat strike Sunday, was not affected by Monday's strike.

The nationwide strike was called by the "Histadrut" trade union federation to protest tax increases, a $1 billion budget cut and plans to privatize state-run companies. The union fears this will lead to pay cuts and large-scale layoffs. The budget cuts call for reduced spending on social services, new taxes on gas and cigarettes, and the loss of tax deductions for married working women.

The labor action began last week with limited protests. Histadrut Chairman Amir Peretz called the general walkout after Israeli police arrested a labor leader on charges he had ordered workers to violate a court order limiting the extent of the strikes.

The government is issuing warrants to force workers in essential services to return to work. The labor union chairman is also a member of parliament for the opposition Labor Party. Netanyahu has branded the strike politically motivated. Netanyahu, who is pushing deregulation and a free-market economy, says the action is irresponsible and groundless.

Finance Minister Dan Meridor says he is willing to negotiate with the Histadrut chief after the strikers return to their jobs. Meridor says he must cut government spending to fight inflation and reduce the national debt. The finance minister faces a 5 p.m Tuesday deadline to get his 1997 budget plan approved by parliament.

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