Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli and Palestinian officials met here this week for their first discussions about civilian issues in six months.

Maj. Gen. Oren Shachor, the leader of the Israeli delegation, said the talks were conducted in a "good atmosphere," but his Palestinian counterpart, Jamil Tarifi, said the Palestinian Authority had sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating it was "impossible to continue the peace process while continuing [Jewish] settlements."

The bilateral group, officially known as the Supreme Civilian Steering Committee, attempts to resolve disputes arising from the implementation of the self-rule accords. Palestinians wanted to discuss Jewish settlements, but Israel refused.

The committee has not met since Hamas launched a series of terror attacks against Israel in February and March.

The Israeli side raised what it considered Palestinian violations of the accords, including illegal construction activities, the unauthorized entry of Palestinians into Israel and the Palestinian Authority's failure to pay hospital and other fees.

Hezbollah missiles may reach farther

TEL AVIV (JPS) — The fundamentalist Hezbollah guerrilla group has amassed an immense arsenal in south Lebanon, reportedly including improved Iranian-produced Katyushas capable of striking the cities of Akko and Karmiel, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday.

"We have information, although not confirmed, that they have acquired 240-millimeter Katyusha rockets with a 40-kilometer range. This creates a significant threat, a threat of another dimension," Shahak said.

The enhanced Katyushas nearly double the range of the conventional rockets Hezbollah is known to possess.

3 Palestinian gunmen killed in Lebanon

TEL AVIV (JPS) — Three Palestinian guerrillas were killed by Israeli paratroopers in a close-range clash in the southern Lebanon security zone early Sunday morning, Israeli army officials said.

It is believed the heavily armed gunmen, from two Palestinian organizations, had intended to attack Israeli army soldiers or Israel's allies, the South Lebanese Army, in the zone.

Israeli army officials said the Palestinian gunmen were members of George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front, headed by Naif Hawatmeh.

They were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, plenty of spare ammunition and communication equipment, and also had sufficient supplies of canned food and water to keep them in the field for several days.

Defense minister wants army in Hebron

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai is planning to present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a proposal to maintain more Israeli control over Hebron, sources say.

Under the plan to amend the Oslo Accords, to be presented in the coming days, the Palestinian Authority would only gain civilian control over Hebron's Arab neighborhoods instead of full authority over the area.

Under the Oslo Accords, the Israeli army is to pull back from approximately 80 percent of Hebron, leaving all Arab neighborhoods of Hebron under full Palestinian control, designated Area A.

But under Mordechai's proposal, Hebron would no longer be designated Area A, but part of Area B, an area of shared control, with the Israeli army permitted to move freely around the city as it deems necessary for security purposes.

There is speculation that under Mordechai's proposal, the Palestinians would instead be given greater control in neighboring Palestinian areas outside of Hebron, such as Halhoul.

Pollard's wife, Esther, meets with Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Esther Pollard, the wife of convicted American Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard, met this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss her husband's plight.

Netanyahu promised her during the meeting that the Israeli government would continue to seek her husband's release, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.

Pollard said she was "heartened" by the meeting, but added that she is continuing her hunger strike, which was in its 18th day Wednesday, to demand her husband's release.

In late July, President Clinton refused to grant executive clemency to Jonathan Pollard. Clinton's decision formalized a White House policy announced in March.

The former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing secrets for the Israeli government and, in 1987, was sentenced to life imprisonment.