Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Health Ministry has filed a police complaint against a business that has advertised the illegal sale of Viagra, the anti-impotence pill developed in the United States. It also warned the public against buying the "miracle pill" on the black market or in stores not authorized to sell pharmaceuticals.

The blue pill, manufactured by Pfizer and recently approved for sale in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, will be available here by prescription only in a few months.

Promedico, which represents Pfizer in Israel, has applied for an import license from the Health Ministry, and there is apparently no reason for it to be rejected. The drug is not an aphrodisiac.

Advertisements have recently appeared in the Hebrew press offering the expensive pill — "in limited supplies" — via a phone number that is constantly busy. The company offers to dispatch three Viagra pills by messenger to any address, in exchange for $87 plus $11 handling. This is three times the price in the United States.

Hamas terrorist gets four life sentences

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Lod Military Court Sunday sentenced Hamas terrorist and Tsurif Gang member Riad Abu Hamadia to four consecutive life sentences plus five years for his role in plotting and carrying out terror attacks in which nine Israelis were killed.

Hamadia, 22, was convicted of abducting and murdering Israel Defense Force officer Sharon Edri in September 1996 and planning and taking part in two drive-by shootings, killing Efrat and Yaron Ungar on June 9, 1996 and Rahel, Ori, and Ze'ev Monk on July 26, 1996. Hamadia also planned and assisted in the bombing on March 21, 1997 at the Apropo Cafe in Tel Aviv. The bombing killed three.

Edri's sister, Sigal, said that the family was not surprised, but was extremely disappointed by the sentence and worried that Hamadia could eventually be released.

"Meanwhile, he is laughing, he has no reason to regret his acts and he is perceived as a hero," she said.

Hamadia, who confessed to the charges, claimed he acted to protect the rights of Palestinians. His lawyer, Abed Asali, charged that the multiple life sentences were unnecessary.

Israel placed on list of copyright violators

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Industry and Trade Ministry issued a protest on Sunday against the decision by U.S. trade representative Charlene Barshefsky to place Israel on the Priority Watch List of violators of U.S.-owned intellectual property rights. The rights apply to entertainment and software around the world.

Zohar Peri, director of the Foreign Trade Administration, said that Israel, as a high-tech leader, is committed to enforcing intellectual property laws.

At this point, the classification does not entail sanctions, the ministry noted.

Ministry Director-General Dov Mishor is to meet this week with representatives of the Justice and Internal Security ministries to discuss ways to boost cooperation among ministries, as well as with the Palestinian Authority, in fighting piracy.

Vanunu's request for parole is refused

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli officials refused to parole Mordechai Vanunu, saying his early release would harm the country's security.

Vanunu has served 12 years of an 18-year sentence he was given for disclosing Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities to The Times of London. Vanunu's lawyer said he would appeal the prison board's decision.

Trade with China rises by 43 percent

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Bilateral trade with China rose 43 percent in the first quarter to $88.3 million, from $61.7 million in the same period in 1997, the Industry and Trade Ministry recently reported.

Exports to China rose 25 percent in the first quarter to $19.3 million. Imports from China in the first quarter were up 48 percent to $69 million.

The biggest increases in trade were in medical and optical equipment and chemicals.

2nd surrogate birth takes place in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The second surrogate birth to occur in Israel took place during last week's Independence Day celebrations.

The emotional hardships described by the first woman to serve as a surrogate in Israel prompted Israeli officials to re-evaluate government policy. But the second surrogate mother said she had no regrets or problems linked to the birth.

Israeli and Hezbollah trade fire in Lebanon

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Fighting heated up in southern Lebanon, with Israeli forces firing artillery at suspected Hezbollah positions after the Shi'ite gunmen launched mortar fire at positions of the Israel-allied South Lebanon Army.

The fighting took place after a Hezbollah gunman was killed in a skirmish Saturday. A reported 17 Hezbollah members have been killed in the area this year, and four Israeli soldiers have been killed during the same period.