Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The head of the Prime Minister's Office, David Agmon, announced his resignation this week, just three months after taking the position.

Israeli media quoted sources close to Agmon as saying that he felt that he was being frozen out of important matters and was being denied access to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by senior aides.

Agmon took the position of chief of the prime minister's bureau in September. He was the second person to hold the post since Netanyahu was elected in May.

His predecessor, Pinchas Fishler, stepped down amid legal problems.

Envoy to Jordan decides to quit post

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Professor Shimon Shamir, Israel's ambassador to Jordan, has announced that he is leaving the post in February.

An embassy spokesman denied rumors circulating in the Jordanian capital of Amman that Shamir's decision had anything to do with political differences between the ambassador and the current Israeli leadership.

Shamir, 52, was appointed Israel's first ambassador to Jordan in March 1995 by the previous Labor-led government, which signed a peace treaty with the Hashemite kingdom in October 1994.

Levy slated to lead Palestinian talks

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Foreign Minister David Levy to head Israel's negotiating team with the Palestinians.

The appointment came after Dan Shomron, the previous top negotiator, resigned from the position after the signing of the Hebron agreement earlier this month.

Netanyahu has also decided to have Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai coordinate security discussions with Syria, when those talks resume, Israel Radio reported.

The prime minister has also requested that attorney Yitzhak Molcho, a confidant, continue his involvement in the talks with the Palestinians.

As part of the Hebron agreement, Israel and the Palestinians decided to resume the final-status negotiations in the spring.

Israeli firm wins bid for Jordan contract

JERUSALEM(JTA) — An Israeli manufacturer has for the first time won a Jordanian government contract.

The Elscint Corporation of Haifa, a leading manufacturer of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, equipment, won a bid to supply the medical imaging system to the al-Bashir Hospital in the Jordanian capital of Amman, at a cost of $1.4 million.

An official with Elscint said the company won the bid over several major international corporations, including General Electric, Siemens, Phillips and Toshiba.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in October 1994.

Netanyahu stopoff in Morocco possible

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may visit Moroccan King Hassan after meeting President Clinton in Washington next month.

Netanyahu is tentatively scheduled to meet Clinton on Feb. 13. Hassan has boycotted Netanyahu until now, refusing to even speak to him on the phone. However, after the Hebron pullback agreement, he sent an open message of congratulations to the premier via the Moroccan Press Agency.

The United States has pledged to improve Israel's Arab regional ties in the aftermath of the Hebron accord, and the U.S. ambassador in Rabat, Marc Ginsberg, is among those seeking to arrange such a meeting.

In the past, meetings between Hassan and Israeli leaders were organized by the monarch's Jewish adviser, Andrei Azulai, and Morocco senior security official, Gen. Abdelak Kediri.

Flights on Sabbath downed in Knesset

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Knesset this week rejected a bill calling for El Al to fly on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

The sponsor of the bill, Avraham Poraz of the leftist Meretz Party, argued that Israel's national airline loses tens of millions of dollars annually because of the current ban on Sabbath flights.

He said that it would be impossible to find an investor willing to buy the airline, which is in the process of privatization, with such losses.

"No investor in his right mind would do this," Poraz said.

But the Knesset Finance Committee chairman, Avraham Ravitz of the ultrareligious United Torah Judaism Party, said the relatively high patronage from religious Jews may stop if El Al flew on the Sabbath.

El Al has considered steps for ultrareligious passengers, including placing dividers on planes between men and women for praying. The chief rabbinate this week also asked all airlines to serve kosher food out of Tel Aviv.