Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis suffering from sexual impotence can no longer look to Viagra for answers.

Israel's Health Ministry ordered doctors in the Jewish state this week to stop selling prescriptions of the drug, which is reputed to reduce sexual impotence.

The order came after Pfizer Inc., the company that sells the drug, reported six deaths among Viagra users in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether there was any link between Viagra use and the six deaths.

Only eight requests for the pills had been filled in Israel.

Meanwhile, officials in Egypt said they would conduct their own tests of the drug before deciding whether to grant approval for sales to the public.

Israel strikes Lebanon in 5 warplane attacks

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli warplanes launched five attacks on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon on Sunday and Monday.

The attacks took place days after Syrian officials visiting Washington told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that Damascus rejected an Israeli proposal to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, where Syria has thousands of troops.

More Jews to settle in the Golan Heights?

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jewish residents of the Golan Heights have launched a campaign to settle more Israelis in the region.

Yehuda Wollman, head of the Golan local council, said the purpose of the campaign was to change the demographic balance of the region, currently home to some 15,000 Israelis and 18,000 Druze.

Some 380 homes are in various stages of construction in 14 Golan communities. Supported by state subsidies, some of the homes are being offered for $47,000, a low price by Israeli standards.

Syria condemned the campaign, saying it was further proof that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in peace.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the region in 1981.

Syria has demanded the return of the Golan as part of any peace package with Israel.

Israel, Slovenia sign deal for free trade

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky and Slovenian Economics and Foreign Trade Minister Marjan Senjur on Wednesday of last week signed a free-trade agreement between their countries in Jerusalem, after two years of negotiations.

Israel has already signed free trade agreements with other central and eastern European countries, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is also negotiating an accord with Romania.

These countries and Slovenia have association agreements with the European Union which resulted in discrimination against Israeli goods.

The free trade agreements eliminate this discrimination, thus providing a potential boost for Israeli products to compete in eastern European markets.

For its part, Slovenia is seeking Israeli investments, technology and joint ventures in areas in which Israel has a comparative advantage, including telecommunications, agro-chemicals and medical equipment.

Under the agreement, most products will immediately enjoy a full exemption from tariffs.

In 1997, bilateral trade between Israel and Slovenia was $77 million, with Israeli exports totaling $70 million, mainly electrical appliances and electronics, machinery, telecommunications products and agro-chemicals.

Peres, Arafat launch new technology fund

JERUSALEM (JPS) — In a fanfare reminiscent of the heyday of the peace process, former prime minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat earlier this month inaugurated the Peace Technology Fund, a venture capital fund that is to invest in projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The fund has raised $50 million, 40 percent each from Israeli and Palestinian investors and 20 percent from the World Bank, and intends to boost the sum to $100 million. The fund is to invest in Palestinian industrial ventures and joint business ventures between Palestinians and Israelis or international investors.

At a ceremony in Bethlehem marking the opening of the fund for business, Peres, Arafat and World Bank president James Wolfensohn signed the "Bethlehem Declaration," affirming their support for the effort "to promote the peace process, providing for the economic development of the West Bank and Gaza and fostering Palestinian-Israeli-international business cooperation."

Wolfensohn, who announced that Daimler-Benz would become a partner in the venture, said the World Bank believes that the fund is a coming together of people united not by politics but by humanity.