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>Israel Faxx
>May 30, 1997. Vol. 5, No. 98

Egyptians Continue Peace Efforts

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Egypt's effort to mediate an end to the crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process continued Thursday. But, reports in two Israeli newspapers added to Palestinian anger and suspicion about the intentions of the Israeli government.

Special Egyptian envoy Osama el-Baz came to Israel, carrying the latest from Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat who el-Baz met with Wednesday.

The meetings are following up on Tuesday's summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak is trying to do what several other mediators have failed to do in recent weeks: get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process going again by solving the current dispute over Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But Egypt's already difficult diplomatic effort faced new challenges Thursday when two Israeli newspapers published articles claiming to reveal two Israeli plans for a final division of the West Bank.

A plan attributed to Israeli security services would give the Palestinians 60 percent of the West Bank. A map purporting to show Netanyahu's own plan would give the Palestinians just 40 percent of the land. Netanyahu denied having any such plan, but some right-wing ministers in his government said even the published map gives the Palestinians too much.

Palestinian officials were angry. They want virtually all of the land Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war. The chief of the Palestinian Security Services, Jibril Rajoub, said there could be violence if Israel does not, "Respect the peace agreements." The chief Palestinian negotiator, Sa'eb Erakat, accused the Israelis of negotiating with themselves and coming up with "unacceptable" plans.

This latest Israeli-Palestinian disagreement is important because the issue of dividing the West Bank is at the heart of the next and final stage of the peace process. Some Palestinian and Israeli officials believe there is no point in making concessions to solve the current dispute over settlements, in order to move to the next stage of talks, if the two sides are so far apart in their visions of the future that reaching any agreement is highly unlikely. It is that kind of conclusion, and the violence which could accompany it, which Mubarak and other mediators are trying to avoid.

Trial for Jordanian Soldier Begins

The trial for the Jordanian soldier accused of murdering seven Israeli schoolgirls in Naharayim began yesterday at a military base in Amman. The soldier is accused of killing the middle-school girls on March 13, 1997 while they were on a class field trip.

The accused, Ahmed el-Dakamsa, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. A panel of five military judges presided over the trial, which began under a veil of heavy security. If convicted, Dakamsa faces a maximum penalty of death by firing squad.

The military prosecutor said that Dakamsa had planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel four years ago, and that he originally planned to open fire on a different, younger group of children in March, but changed his mind and attacked the older schoolgirls instead. He was also reported to have planned to steal a car at the scene in order to run over the driver of the school bus that ferried the girls to Naharayim. The trial was continued until Monday, so that a defense could be prepared.

New Israeli Submarine Launched in Germany

A new submarine has been launched by the Israeli Navy from a German shipyard. Livyatan, the new submarine, was launched in a traditional ceremony attended by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak and his wife, Tali. German Inspector of the Navy, Hartmut Bagger, also attended the ceremony. The submarine was one of three made in Germany specially for the Israeli Navy. The project was financed by the German government.

Jerusalem Population Statistics Released

The overall growth rate of Jerusalem's Jewish population is decreasing every year. At the end of 1996, the overall population of Jerusalem was 603,000, of which 422,300, or 70 percent, were Jews. The total population grew 139 percent since the Six Day War, with Jewish population growing by 114 percent and Arab population by 163 percent. The average Jewish household has 3.6 people, while the average Arab household has 5.4 people. These figures were released by the Jerusalem Institute for Israeli Studies, in its annual Statistical Yearbook.

Projections for the year 2010 predict a population of 817,500, with 251,000 Arabs and 214,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews. The ultra-Orthodox will comprise 38 percent of the Jewish population and 26 percent of the overall population.

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