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>Israel Faxx
>JN Feb. 17, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 27

Assad Comatose for Two Weeks

According to the Sunday Times, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was comatose in December 1996 and was saved by Russian physicians. The cause of the coma was not given.

According to the Times report, the Syrian President was in a coma for two weeks. Russian intelligence sources say that Assad's condition is worse than reported in the Western media. Russian reports say Assad's health is failing and in the last two weeks he has suffered a heart attack and been hospitalized. Assad, 67 had a heart attack 15 years ago and his general health is poor.

The illness appears to have prompted Assad into considerations about his successor. Huge posters hailing his second son Bashar as "Our Hope for the Future" have gone up on main streets over the past month.

Netanyahu on Syria, Iran and Iraq

By Victor Beattie (VOA-Washington)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his Likud-led government will not be bound by unfinished negotiations between Syria and the previous Labor-led Israeli government. Netanyahu also warns Syria, Iraq and Iran are "feverishly" arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking to the Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, Netanyahu offered to take note of the negotiations held by the previous administration and Syria. However, he added that Israel cannot be bound by what he calls conversations, ideas, speculations, hypotheses and suggestions. He says he will be bound only by signed agreements.

Syria insists Israel's previous government agreed to withdraw from the Golan Heights, a key Syrian demand, but Netanyahu's government opposes such a pullout. Talks have been at an impasse for more than one year.

The Israeli leader also expresses alarm at the proliferation of ballistic missiles among Syria, Iran and Iraq. "They are preparing warheads, chemical and biological, and, if Iraq and Iran have their way, also nuclear warheads that could change the balance of power in the Middle East and radically change the map the peace for the worse in our area."

Agreement Reached on Swiss-Jewish Deposits

By Max Ruston (VOA-New York)

Jewish leaders have reached a general agreement with the Swiss government to establish a restitution fund for survivors of the Holocaust. The agreement was accompanied by a pledge from Switzerland to publicly re-examine its treatment of Jews during and after World War 2.

The two sides agreed during a meeting in New York that Swiss Government and private institutions will contribute to a restitution fund for Holocaust survivors and that Switzerland will thoroughly and publicly investigate its past ties to Nazi Germany and its treatment of Jews. The meeting marked one of the highest-level gatherings of people concerned in the dispute. Participants included the president of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, Under Secretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat, US Sen. Alfonse d'Amato, R-N.Y., and Swiss special envoy Thomas Borer.

After the closed-door meeting, Bronfman said the mood of the talks was, in his words, considerably brighter than in the past. "I think this is an historic moment, because what was getting a little out of hand and perhaps overly emotional is now somewhat back on track."

The agreement appears to mark the beginning of the end of a long-running and bitter dispute between Switzerland and the WJC. The dispute centers on charges that Switzerland helped Nazi German authorities transfer stolen money and gold during World War 2. After the war, Swiss banks allegedly kept money belonging to Holocaust victims by failing to investigate claims by survivors and heirs.

At a joint news conference with Bronfman, Borer said his government is determined to carry out a thorough and honest investigation of its past. "It was important for me that I could explain again that my government is fully committed to shedding full light on our history no matter how painful that process may be. We are fully committed to righting the wrongs that may have occurred."

Bronfman said further talks will take place this week on implementation of the agreement. People involved in the talks say contributions from Swiss banks now total about $150 million. Swiss officials say their government also plans to make a major contribution to the fund. But, they say before determining exactly how much money it will provide, the government first needs to see the results of an independent historical commission now investigating Switzerland's policies during and after World War 2.

WJC officials say they believe the restitution fund will be prepared to start disbursing money by the middle of the year.

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