Mideast Report

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel Defense Force troops have captured a cell of five Hamas members that planned to attack a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

The five, who were between the ages of 16 and 18, apparently infiltrated the Israeli-controlled area of Gush Katif from Khan Yunis Friday of last week and managed to get close to the Jewish settlement of Gadid.

The would-be attackers from the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, who said they had trained for a month for an attack, were armed with several firebombs, a gun, knives and axes. They also had a copy of the Koran.

An Israeli army patrol caught the Hamas members after they set off an electronic alarm. The head of Israeli troops in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, reportedly said the suspects planned to kill Jews who were at home in observance of Shabbat.

Israel returns seven illegals to Jordan

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has released seven Jordanian prisoners who had been held after being accused of infiltrating Israel and conducting illegal military activities.

The group was the first of 36 Jordanians Israel has agreed to release after more than a year of negotiations with Jordanian officials.

Meanwhile, Jordan's new ambassador to Israel, Omar Rifai, took up his post in Tel Aviv late last week, replacing Marwan Muasher, who was recently appointed information minister in the Jordanian government.

Israeli soldier hurt in Lebanon attack

JERUSALEM (JPS) — At least one Israeli soldier was reported seriously wounded in clashes in south Lebanon Monday night, after an apparent attempt by terrorists to infiltrate into Israel.

The clashes occurred after gunmen opened fire from the Lebanese side of the border at troops on routine patrol near Kibbutz Manara in Upper Galilee.

The reports said the three Lebanese civilians had been wounded when an illumination shell crashed on their home in a village inside the security zone.

If correct, the reported infiltration would be the first in years.

Palestinians free convicted killers

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Two Palestinians convicted by a Palestinian court in Jericho of killing Israeli hikers Ohad Bachrach and Uri Shahor in the West Bank are out of jail and free in Jericho, Prime Minister Shimon Peres has told Bachrach's father.

Arye Bachrach, who along with the relatives of three other terror attack victims met with Peres, told the prime minister the government should demand the killers' extradition to Israel.

"I told him [Peres], that just as you justifiably demand [justice for] the murderer of Rabin, I don't understand why the government, whose job it is to bring every murderer to justice, does not use its leverage to force their extradition and to bring them to justice," Bachrach said.

According to Bachrach, Peres replied that Palestinian officials claim that the two men who were tried soon after the murder eight months ago in the Wadi Kelt valley were victims of "mistaken identity."

2 yeshiva students stabbed in Hebron

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Two yeshiva students were stabbed in central Hebron in the West Bank Monday by an assailant who was shot and arrested by the Israeli army.

Gideon Margalit, an administrator at the Shavei Hebron yeshiva, said the two — Eyal Sa'adi, 25, of Karnei Shomron, and Yanai Dahan, 35, of Ra'anana — were standing in Gross Square when the assailant ran out from the nearby market and stabbed them. Soldiers saw the attack, and fired at the terrorist, who was hit but continued to flee.

The two were taken to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, suffering from wounds to the back and the head, which were described as light to moderate.

An army spokesman said the terrorist was arrested in a hospital in Hebron.

12-year-old bank fraud case winds up

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A scandal from more than 12 years ago that cost Israeli taxpayers $9 billion has come to an end.

The Israeli Supreme Court last week accepted an appeal by eight former banking executives to overturn their jail sentences.

But the court Feb. 28 upheld fines of up to $300,000 for some of the former executives, earlier found guilty of manipulating the price of bank shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in the early 1980s.

The banking heads were from the Jewish state's four largest commercial banks: Bank Leumi, the Israel Discount Bank, Bank Hapoalim and United Mizrachi Bank. The government is now in the process of privatizing these banks.