Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli Mossad agent caught during a bungled spy operation in Switzerland has returned home.

The agent, identified only by his age, 44, returned to Israel on Saturday after Israeli authorities guaranteed that he would go back to Switzerland to stand trial.

The agent was one of five Mossad operatives caught red-handed in February while attempting to bug an apartment near the Swiss capital of Bern. The apartment belonged to a businessman with suspected links to the Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah.

The other four agents were released by local police after being detained briefly.

It was not immediately clear when the agent would stand trial or whether the proceedings would be open or closed.

The agent may face charges that include violating Swiss sovereignty and conducting foreign intelligence activities in another country.

In a statement issued earlier this month, the Swiss prosecutor disclosed that the equipment for the bugging operation had been transferred to Switzerland in a diplomatic bag.

Rabbinate amends prayer said for IDF

JERUSALEM (JPS) — With large numbers of Israel Defense Force soldiers serving in Lebanon, the Chief Rabbinical Council last week decided to change the prayer on behalf of the nation's defenders, recited on Shabbat in many synagogues.

Until now the prayer had called for the well-being of soldiers "from the border of Lebanon to the riverbed of Egypt." The prayer now reads "in every place," to include soldiers serving in the security zone.

A similar change is to be made in the memorial prayer for fallen soldiers, traditionally recited on the three pilgrimage festivals.

The council also decided to include the police in the prayer by adding the words "and the security forces" to the prayer.

The change was made at the suggestion of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron.

Israel and U.S. settle differences in trade

JERUSALEM (JPS) Israel and the United States have agreed on trade concessions in talks aimed at resolving problems with the free trade accord, the Industry and Trade Ministry announced on Monday.

According to the agreement, the United States will exempt Israel's imports arriving via ports from the customs users fee. The only countries that enjoy this exemption today are Canada and Mexico, within the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In exchange, Israel has agreed to allow the import of American food products that had previously been blocked due to Israeli standards, which require that food be packaged according to specific metric sizes.

The United States argued that this was blatant discrimination against American food products compared with imports from Europe and was blocking business opportunities in Israel.

The agreement on the issues was a result of talks that Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky held with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in Washington last month.

According to Sharansky, the customs users fee costs Israeli exporters tens of millions of dollars a year. Israel has been asking for these customs to be removed for several years, he added.

Unclaimed Israeli land to be listed by JNF

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Jewish National Fund is expected in the coming weeks to publish for the first time a list of some 1,800 unclaimed parcels of land in Israel, most of which are believed to be owned by victims of the Holocaust.

Shlomi Kravitz, the head of the JNF, said most of the parcels had been sold prior to World War II to European Jews and are now worth tens of millions of dollars.