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>Israel Faxx
>JN March 17, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 46

Shots on Egyptian Border

On the Israeli-Egyptian border, in the area of Rafiah (less than 10 kilometers north of the former Israeli city of Yamit), shots were fired at an IDF patrol early this morning. There were no injuries. IDF soldiers in the patrol returned fire and carried out a search for the attackers.

King Hussein Pays Shiva Calls

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Jordan's King Hussein visited Israel Sunday to pay condolences on the families of the seven 13-year-old schoolgirls killed by a Jordanian soldier last week, and to see some of the wounded in hospital.

When the king and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered the living room of the Malkah family, Aliyah Malkah, mother of the late Adi, burst into tears. She sat with her husband and surviving children on the floor, in a traditional Jewish sign of mourning. As he did in other homes Sunday, the king knelt on the floor to offer words of condolence.

"No words can ever express how I personally feel, how my family feels, how my people feel. We consider this a loss that all of us suffered. I feel that I have lost a child."

After greeting other family members, the king -- wearing a red traditional arab headscarf -- knelt again and kissed the grieving couple farewell. Netanyahu did the same, as did the king's son Faisal and his daughter Aisha.

The scene was repeated seven times, in seven modest homes, with seven grieving families, as the king's motorcade of black cars moved slowly through the gray, stormy afternoon. The king spoke English with some of the families, Arabic with some who are of Moroccan origin, and Netanyahu acted as his interpreter with families who only speak Hebrew. In one home, the parents of one of the murdered girls are deaf and the king waited patiently as his words were interpreted into sign language and their responses were translated into English.

Zacharia Fatihi, the father of slain Sivan Fatihi, told the king the killings only make it more important to fight extremists and to pursue peace. "I am sure that your majesty will fight those fanatic extremists. Otherwise, they will negatively affect the peace. Both sides should work hard to get peace."

Late in the afternoon, the king visited a wounded girl and teacher in a Jerusalem hospital. He said the challenge the region's people face is to build a peace which will protect children like the seven girls killed Thursday. "In visiting the families today -- they were kind enough to receive me -- I felt, and I tried to express to them, that the loss was shared between us all."

The king's visit was a deeply personal gesture, but it also could give a boost to the troubled Middle East peace process. This tragedy will not erase the sharp disagreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors over Jerusalem and other aspects of the peace process.

Israeli President Ezer Weizman said Sunday although he believes it is terrible to think so, the deaths of the seven girls at least re-opened personal contacts among the leaders and could help create some new opportunities.

Nations Meet in Gaza

By Al Pessin (VOA-Gaza)

Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has called on foreign co-signers of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements to create a new international mechanism to make sure the peace process stays on track. The diplomats attending a specially called meeting in Gaza expressed sympathy, but stopped short of agreeing to any new role.

Opening the unprecedented meeting Saturday, Arafat told the diplomats recent Israeli policies toward Jerusalem and the West Bank mean he no longer has a partner who is committed to the basic principles of the peace process or to the specific agreements which have been signed.

Arafat said the countries which co-signed the Israeli-Palestinian agreements, including the United States and Russia, have a shared responsibility to help save the peace process and put it back on "the normal track."

The diplomats promised to take Arafat's concerns to their governments, and to Israel. But the US representative, Edward Abington, said direct Israel-Palestinian talks are still the priority. "We do not see this as a new mechanism. We see bilateral negotiations as the best way to solve problems."

Israel has already rejected any effort to create a new international mechanism in the peace process.

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