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>Israel Faxx
>JN April 14, 1998, Vol. 6, No. 69

Assad Calls Israel's Withdrawal "Ploy"

By Edward Yeranian (VOA-Beirut)

Syrian President Hafez al Assad met Monday with Lebanon's three top officials to form a joint response to Israel's recent offer to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon. The leaders of both Lebanon and Syria once again poured cold water on the Israeli proposal to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

A Syrian government spokesman declared that UN Resolution 425 called for an "unconditional Israeli withdrawal" and that Israel's offer to negotiate was "just a ploy to drive a wedge between Lebanon and Syria."

Monday's declaration came in response to last weeks' letter by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright encouraging Lebanon to begin talks with Israel about the terms of withdrawal.

Israel's Cabinet voted April 1 to accept UN Resolution 425 asking it to withdraw from southern Lebanon -- if Lebanon agreed to negotiate security along the border.

Syria's official government daily "Techrine" said Monday that Lebanon stood firm in refusing Israeli pressure to break ranks with Syria. Lebanon and Syria have coordinated their negotiating strategy with Israel since the 1991 Madrid peace conference on the Middle East. Syria also keeps 30,000 troops based on Lebanese soil.

An editorial in Monday's official Ba'ath newspaper in Syria said there could be "no stability in the Middle East if Israel refused to withdraw from all Arab territories."

Talks between Israel and Syria about an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights broke down in February 1996. Syria insists on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the heights before making peace with Israel.


Shekel Continues to Decline in Value

By Mark Lavie (VOA-Tel Aviv)

Israel's currency continues to fall in value against the dollar, after the country's central bank announced foreign currency reforms. Observers say the moves might help Israel's struggling exporters.

The dollar was worth more than NIS 3.7 shekels in currency exchanges Monday. The shekel has lost about six percent of its value in the past two weeks. That is good news for Israeli industry. Manufacturers complained that the shekel was overvalued, pricing them out of export markets.

Israel's central bank announced that starting next month, the Israeli currency will be convertible to dollars in Israel and abroad. That means Israelis will be allowed to pay bills here in dollars -- illegal up to now. Also, banks abroad will be able to buy shekels and trade them in for dollars from the Israeli central bank.

This is the latest in a series of moves by Israel's government to liberalize the country's economy, moving it away from the centralized, socialized concepts that guided it through most of its first 50 years.

But basic problems remain. Interest rates remain among the highest in the industrialized world, as the central bank implements its first priority of controlling inflation. Unemployment is nearing double figures, and foreign investment and joint ventures with Israeli firms are limping along. Economists say all this amounts to a recession.

Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government say Israel's economic problems are the result of his political policies. They say the optimistic economic climate of two years ago, when peace talks were in progress, has been replaced by a return to political and economic isolation for Israel, because of the two-year stalemate in Israeli-Arab peace negotiations under Netanyahu's government.


300 Detainees to Visit Cyprus to Mark British Arrest

By IINS News Service

Some 300 Israelis are expected to return to Cyprus in June, for the first time in 50 years, to mark the anniversary of being held in detention camps by the British colonial administration.

Israel's ambassador to Cyprus, Shemi Tzur, told the German Press Agency DPA that the Israelis, some of whom were children among the 52,000 held in Cyprus from 1946 to 1949, would be returning in "a sort of pilgrimage and to express their warm thanks to the people of Cyprus."

The visit, which will be part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of the State of Israel, aims to express appreciation for the warmth and hospitality shown by the people of Cyprus.

"Both nations have many similarities during these decades and we intend to highlight our unique relations," Tzur said during a lecture at the Cyprus College in Nicosia.

He added that Israel was among the first to recognize the Republic of Cyprus when it gained independence from Britain in 1960, maintaining an embassy in Nicosia ever since. Cyprus opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in 1996.


Passover Heat Wave Continues

By IINS News Service

The heat wave that hit the entire region continues, with no end in sight. According to meteorologists, the heat wave will continue at least through Wednesday, but they cannot say when it will break. On Sunday at the Tel Aviv beach, temperatures soared at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The dry hot air is expected to remain for the indefinite future and travelers are advised to dress and act accordingly, to avoid adverse affects from the heat.


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