Mideast Report

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Tel Aviv District Court has rejected the claims of Hagai Amir, the brother of Yitzhak Rabin's convicted assassin, that investigators used psychological pressure to force a confession.

Amir, with his brother Yigal Amir and friend Dror Adani, have pleaded innocent to charges they conspired to kill Rabin and planned attacks against West Bank Palestinians.

In March, the same court convicted Yigal Amir of shooting Rabin at a Nov. 4 peace rally. Amir is serving a life prison sentence.

An attorney for Hagai Amir charged that investigators had threatened to blow up his parents' house, questioned him at 4 a.m. and kept him in isolation. The court denied the charge.

Hagai Amir allegedly amassed a large arsenal of weapons in his family's home, and crafted the hollow-point bullets with which his brother killed Rabin.

Attorneys for both Hagai Amir and Adani said their clients did not know about Yigal Amir's intent to kill Rabin.

Israel eases closure of West Bank, Gaza

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel further eased the 14-week closure of the territories this week, doubling the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to about 22,000.

The army announced Wednesday that married Palestinians age 35 and older would be allowed to apply for permits to work in Israel.

Some 10,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 10,000 in the Gaza Strip are eligible. The army also said 350 merchants would be allowed to receive entry permits.

The closure was imposed at the end of February in response to suicide bombings by Islamic militants.

Israel had slightly eased the closure after the May 29 elections, allowing 10,000 workers into Israel.

Mossad's new chief Yatom takes over

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, who until recently served as Prime Minister Shimon Peres' military secretary, took over this week as head of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency.

Yatom, 51, replaces Shabtai Shavit, who headed the agency for seven years.

Shavit, whose identity was released for publication last week, is to become head of Israel's Maccabi health care fund.

Shavit joined the Mossad in 1964.

An official announcement in March of Yatom's appointment ended a policy of keeping secret the names of serving Mossad chiefs.

In a letter of gratitude to the departing agency head, outgoing Prime Minister Peres wrote:

"Only [a] few people…know how important your contribution was to the security of Israel, the battle against terror, the establishment of diplomatic ties with many countries and the ability of Israel to move forward toward peace."

Yatom served in the army for 33 years and was a member of the elite commando unit of the General Command. He took part — along with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu — in the unit's storming of a hijacked Belgian airliner in 1972.

Arafat's plane lands in new Gaza airport

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The private airplane of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was the first to land in the Palestinian airport in the Gaza Strip that opened this week.

On Sunday, the pilot of the plane — the flight originated in Egypt — waved a Palestinian flag from the cockpit as the plane touched down on the runway.

The opening of the airport was delayed as Israeli and Palestinian officials worked out final arrangements for security control and operations.

Ultimately, the differences were resolved by giving the airport a special status, enabling Israel to maintain overall security responsibility without infringing upon Palestinian self-rule.