JERUSALEM (JPS) — A poll taken to mark the first year of autonomy found that 32 percent of Palestinians "support continued Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide operations against Israeli targets under the current political conditions."

Nevertheless, the poll showed that support for the peace process is increasing with 75 percent backing the negotiations and 16 percent opposing them and the remainder undecided. In Gaza, 69 percent said they feel more secure than before the Oslo accords.

The supporters of suicide attacks stressed that there is "no other solution" (24 percent), "because occupation still exists" (18 percent), "Israel understands only power, Israeli provocations, revenge" (18 percent), while only 15 percent said the bombings were necessary "for the sake of Islam" or as "an alternative to the peace process."

According to the poll, 60 percent of Palestinians would not agree to a two-state solution if that meant giving up claims to land inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.

Only 10 percent said they believe Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is sincere "in implementing the agreements."

Arafat's performance as head of the Palestinian Authority was evaluated as "good" by 52 percent.

Unemployment rate drops to nearly 7%

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Israel's unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent in the first quarter, after remaining static during most of last year at about 7.7 percent, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced on Sunday.

Economic Models director Eli Sagi said he suspected the drop was temporary and would be reversed during the second half of the year.

According to Sagi, the main reason for lower unemployment was the tremendous jump in private consumption in the first quarter which stimulated activity in trade services and probably led to job growth in the sector. Similarly, the consumer products industry was also a source of new jobs.

Toys `R' Us to open this fall in Haifa

JERUSALEM (JPS) — With international executives on hand, the local franchise holder for Toys `R' Us formally announced on Thursday that the first branch is slated to open here in mid-August or mid-September.

Leon Koffler of the Super-Pharm group said the initial store, in the Haifa Bayside area, is expected to have an annual turnover "in excess of $10 million, though perhaps not in the first year."

The second branch is to open before Pesach at Kibbutz Shefayim, near Netanya. Within three or four years, there are expected to be five or six branches.

The franchise for Israel is held by Koffler and David Solomon of Philadelphia.

American Express now available in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — American Express is now available in Israel under a franchise deal that has been signed with Bank Hapoalim.

It is believed to be the company's first such franchise deal outside the United States.

The bank said in a statement last week that cardholders would be able to draw on Israeli currency worldwide. In addition, a billing and support system has been established locally.

In most countries, the U.S.-based American Express Co. issues the cards. The Israeli franchise will be a test case for similar deals in other countries, American Express officials said.

Bank Hapoalim is Israel's largest bank, with almost $40 billion in assets.

Father of MIA thinks son is in Lebanon

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Thirteen years after the Lebanon war, the father of a missing soldier says his son and two other missing servicemen could be alive, held by Lebanese villagers working for Syria.

Yona Baumel, father of Zachary Baumel, said some of the information was less than a month old.

Baumel spoke recently at a news conference in Jerusalem, marking the anniversary of the battle in which his son and two other soldiers, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, were believed to have been captured.

"According to our information, the boys are being held by the Lebanese, in Lebanese villages, but under the supervision of the Syrians," Baumel said. He would not elaborate, saying he did not want to endanger the sources.

He added that for the first time, a Jordanian witness to the capture of the Israel Defense Force soldiers has agreed to come to Israel and publicly talk about what he saw.

Baumel said the witness is a Jordanian journalist.

Suicide bomber dies; misses Israeli target

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A terrorist disaster was narrowly avoided in the Gaza Strip on Sunday when a suicide bomber blew himself up just after an army vehicle had passed him.

The three soldiers on the vehicle were slightly injured.

The incident occurred near the entrance to Neve Dekalim, one of the Jewish settlements that comprise the Gush Katif region in the southern part of the strip.

The bomber was driving a mule-cart. Both he and the mule were blown to pieces.