Mideast Report

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — At least two Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday by roadside bombs in the southern Lebanon security zone.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for detonating the bombs, which have claimed a steadily rising toll of Israeli soldiers.

Israel and its ally in the region, the South Lebanon Army, responded to the bombings by targeting Hezbollah positions with artillery fire.

The deaths bring the total number of Israelis killed in Lebanon since the beginning of the year to at least 41.

Last month 12 Israeli naval commandos were killed in a raid on Lebanon, in what was the Israel Defense Force's heaviest casualty count in more than 12 years in a single military operation.

Quickie tourist getaways to Israel planned by El Al

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis who want to get away from it all will soon be able to fly to Europe for a day's worth of fun and shopping.

El Al, Israel's national airline, has announced a new marketing campaign that will enable people to take a four-hour flight from Tel Aviv to London or Paris and return the same day.

The price for the getaway, not including purchases in Harrod's department store or along the Champs-Elysees, will be about $330.

The carrier, which is facing a budget deficit of up to $45 million this year, said it will introduce the one-day excursion at the beginning of November, the company's low season.

"El Al is looking into new creative marketing approaches that will provide additional passengers to fill our planes during the quiet winter months," said the airline's spokesman, Nachman Kleiman.

Kleiman attributed El Al's financial problems, which peaked in 1996 with an $80 million deficit, to a number of factors: a decrease in tourism to Israel due to the volatile security situation; higher international fuel costs; and devaluation of the shekel against the dollar.

U.S. undersecretary eyes investment opportunities in Israel

JERUSALEM — Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizenstat was in Israel this week seeking investment opportunities for american companies, according to an official at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The two-day trip was the first leg of Eizenstat's visit to several Middle Eastern capitals and his first trip in his new role. Eizenstat had been here on several occasions as undersecretary for trade.

Eizenstat planned to push for the regional economic summit, scheduled for Qatar in November, to take place as scheduled. There are reports of increasing Arab pressure on Qatar to cancel or postpone the conference because of the freeze in the peace process. Qatar is expected to formally invite Israel to the conference in the coming days, according to government sources in Jerusalem.

While in Israel, Eizenstat also planned to push for the completion of the Karni industrial park in Gaza by the end of the year. The park is the result of months of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with considerable support from Eizenstat, particularly during his previous posting.

Israel orders complete audit of yeshivas that state funded

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The government plans to hire an accounting firm to complete a full audit of yeshivas that receive state support, Finance Ministry spokesman Eli Yosef said Monday.

This follows persistent media reports that yeshivas are claiming funding for as many as 20,000 fictitious students. Allegedly they are registering students with foreign passports both under their identity card numbers and their foreign passport numbers.

In a statement issued following media reports Monday, the Finance Ministry said it had not delayed the transfer of any funds due the Religious Affairs Ministry from the 1997 state budget.

It became apparent a few weeks ago that the Religious Affairs Ministry had exceeded its budget for yeshiva support, as a result of a large increase in the number of students. The ministry tried to obtain more funding for the additional students but was refused.

The ministry, at its own initiative, then conducted an investigation which raised suspicions about the registration of some 10,000 students, the statement said.

Consequently the Religious Affairs Ministry decided not to transfer funding for those students, claimed the Treasury.