Mideast Report

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — In what some observers are viewing as yet another attempt at reconciliation, the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement has called for a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority.

"We must immediately start in a comprehensive, serious national dialogue that will be binding to all influential groups in the Palestinian arena," Hamas said in a statement this week.

The militant organization also called for the release of all Hamas activists from Palestinian prisons, according to the statement.

In the wake of Hamas' repeated suicide attacks against Israelis, Palestinian police have cracked down with increasing severity on the movement, arresting many of its military and political leaders.

After the Aug. 21 suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus by a member of Hamas, Palestinian police arrested some 30 Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip.

Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat has made a series of attempts in the past to reach agreements with Hamas, which vehemently opposes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In unofficial agreements reached with the Palestinian Authority in recent months, Hamas promised not to launch suicide attacks from areas under Palestinian control.

Peres rejects Syrian claim against Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has rejected Syria's contention that Jerusalem is responsible for the current impasse in the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations.

Peres said Monday that he was disappointed with Syrian President Hafez Assad's "pessimistic tone" regarding the negotiations and with Assad's refusal to enter into high-level military talks with Israel.

Assad, speaking in Cairo this week, said he doubted that any progress would be made in the Israeli-Syrian negotiations in the near future.

Assad recently called off the negotiations, saying that any resumption of the military talks, last held between the two countries' military chiefs of staff in late June in Washington, would have to be preceded by Israel's dropping its demand to establish ground-based early warning stations on the Golan Heights.

Peres responded to Assad's comments during a session Monday of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. A parliamentary official quoted Peres as saying that Syria was to blame for the stalemate in the negotiations because it has failed to keep to its agreement to hold talks between senior military officers from the two sides.

While criticizing Assad, Peres reiterated Israel's commitment to the talks.

"Israel will continue to pursue the policy of peace and security, without any interruption," he told reporters after the closed session.

Israeli police nab two stab suspects

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli police have arrested two Palestinians accused of being involved in separate stabbing attempts on border police in Jerusalem.

Both stabbing attempts took place in late August near Likud Knesset member Ariel Sharon's apartment in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

In the first incident, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the Ramallah area was overpowered after he allegedly stabbed a border policeman with a large kitchen knife.

The policeman's protective gear prevented any serious harm, and he suffered only light scratches to his hand.

In the second incident, a 43-year-old woman was accused of trying to stab another border police officer after she was asked to show identification.

She was also subdued and taken in for questioning.

Jerusalem police officials said they did not think the two incidents were connected.

Israel, Egypt link to export produce

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and Egypt have signed an agreement to set up a joint company to export agricultural products to Europe and the United States.

As a result of the agreement signed recently during a visit to Israel by a delegation of Egyptian businessmen, a shipping terminal for the agricultural consortium will be set up in Cairo.

Israel's Agriculture Ministry said the joint venture would involve Agrexco, the agency that markets Israeli agricultural goods abroad; a group of Egyptian exporters; Egypt Air; and several banks that will finance the project.

Israeli medical aid offered to Eritrea

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and Eritrea have signed a medical cooperation agreement under which Israel will provide the East African nation with medical equipment and expertise.

Israeli Health Minister Ephraim Sneh signed the agreement during a recent visit to the country, which was formerly a part of Ethiopia.

Sneh also presented Eritrea with two incubators valued at $75,000 apiece.

A delegation of Israeli pediatricians and ophthalmologists will soon start training Eritrean physicians, according to a statement issued by the Health Ministry.

Israel, which also will launch a program to help train Eritrean nurses, plans to help establish an intensive care unit there.