Mideast Report

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JERUSALEM (JPS) — A coalition of right-wing groups has urged a boycott of the upcoming national census as an anti-government protest.

"Don't fill out the questionnaire until a government is elected that rules without PLO votes in the Knesset," read a letter sent out by the groups on Tuesday. "Remember, the future of our people in our land is not over, as long as the people have not signed."

The letter was signed by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, the settlers' group Zo Artzenu, Professors for a Strong Israel, the Action Committee for the Abolition of the Autonomy Plan, and the Action Committee.

The census, which takes place every 10 years and is to begin this week, is being conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Participation is compulsory.

Yehiel Leiter, a spokesman for the settlement council, said the group realizes that avoiding the census is a "minor crime," but that this pales in comparison to "what the government is doing."

"The Rabin government has delegitimized and demonized the opposition and has negated the rights of one-half of the population," Leiter said. "It seems only right that one-half of the population should then not give the government legitimacy by taking part in a national census."

Rabin, Peres receive Greek peace award

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem has awarded Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres awards for peace despite Palestinian objections.

Diodoros I, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, presented the Golden Peace Prize awards to Rabin and Peres at a Tuesday ceremony.

The event took place on the Mount of Olives, despite pressure from Palestinians who wanted to cancel the program.

"The Palestinians insisted that the ceremony shouldn't take place in eastern Jerusalem, because they would like to avoid a precedent," said Metropolitan Timothy, secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

Timothy said the church felt that Viri Galilei, the patriarchal residence, has been part of the patriarchate for 100 years and thus has attained the status of a holy place. For the church, he said, the ceremony had religious meaning and no political impact.

Last week, Diodoros awarded similar medals to Jordan's King Hussein and to Crown Prince Hassan. He also intends to give a medal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in Gaza on a date to be set.

Israeli officials said the Palestinians had put enormous pressure on the patriarchate either to cancel the event or to grant Arafat's medal to a Palestinian representative at the same ceremony. In the face of the patriarchate's refusal, the invited Palestinian representatives chose not to attend.

Palestinian security agents interrogated

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Five Palestinians have been detained in connection with the death of a Palestinian American while he was in custody of Palestinian security officials.

Among the detainees were agents of Jibril Rajoub, the head of all Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, including the police and secret service.

Palestinian officials said the body of Azzam Musleh, 52, would be exhumed to determine the cause of his death.

Musleh was detained last month by Palestinian security officials on suspicion of leading a West Bank burglary ring, Israel Radio reported.

He was taken to the Jericho self-rule enclave, where he was questioned by interrogators under Rajoub's command.

His body was returned 30 hours after his arrest to family members he had been visiting in the West Bank. Witnesses who saw Musleh's body said they saw signs of beatings on his face and body.

U.S. consulate officials have demanded an investigation of the incident.

In a related development, six Palestinian security agents have been sentenced to prison terms for using excessive violence while questioning a detainee.

It was unclear whether the detainee involved was Musleh.

Bid could end army's pioneering Nahal unit

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset subcommittee has recommended dismantling the Israeli army's Nahal unit, which combines infantry service with educational and settlement programs.

Laborite Hagai Meirom of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee this summer proposed transforming Nahal into a regular ground-force unit.

Founded in 1949, the "pioneering fighting youth" was for many years a mainstay of the kibbutz movement. Many of Israel's border settlements were originally Nahal outposts. A main role of Nahal members was to establish settlements in key border positions.

Nahal worked on the principle of forming compact, coed groups. Men usually served in infantry units and took part in regular operational exercises; women often served in development towns and kibbutzim. Members were expected to join a settlement as a group after completing their service in the army.

But Meirom said this is no longer the case for the vast majority of Nahal youth. More often, members of a core group settle individually in towns and cities.

It would be more cost effective, he said, to turn Nahal into a regular ground-forces unit.