Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The Coca-Cola Co. has issued a franchise for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to a Ramallah bottler, in which the Atlanta-based company has also purchased a 15-percent stake.

Production by the National Beverage Co. is due to begin on Saturday.

Distribution of the products to the Palestinian areas was previously carried out by the B'nei Brak-based Central Bottling Company, which has been producing in Israel for 30 years.

Coca-Cola country manager Ian Shackleton said the deal with National Beverage was the result of a multi-million dollar investment in the Ramallah plant by the shareholders to bring the factory up to Coca-Cola's standards.

Under the franchise, National Beverage will not be allowed to sell its products in east Jerusalem, which will continue to be supplied by the Israeli plant.

IDF says that soldiers are complaining less

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Contrary to popular opinion, Israeli soldiers are complaining less than in the past, and the biggest drop in complaints last year came from reservists serving in combat units, according to the outgoing IDF public complaints officer.

Col. Ahuva Yanai cited the intensive efforts to ease and shorten reserve duty during the past two years as the reason reservists are complaining less.

Yanai's office received 7,307 complaints last year, representing a 7.6 percent drop from the previous year.

Half the complaints reaching her office come from men and women doing compulsory service.

Most of the complaints revolve around unit assignments, money and service conditions. Soldiers also complain about unfair treatment by their commanders, who are often accused of ignoring medical instructions.

One case she cited involved a soldier who was forced to open an IDF stretcher by banging it with his head. The soldier was injured, his medical profile lowered as a result, and he was disqualified from combat duty. "This is no doubt lifelong damage," Yanai said Monday.

In this decade, the army has seen a rise in the number of complaints filed by parents and relatives of soldiers. Today some 20 percent of all complaints are made by parents, the most common being the lack of sleep their children are getting and collective punishments.

U.S., Israel at odds on radar technology

JERUSALEM (JPS) — The United States has delivered a harshly worded letter to Israel, accusing it of violating the Missile Technology Control Regime by selling radar technology associated with the Arrow-2 anti-missile system to India.

According to the London-based newsletter Foreign Report published on Thursday of last week, American officials also summoned Defense Ministry Director-General Ilan Biran to the U.S. Embassy "in order to vent their anger in person."

The Americans said that although the Arrow itself, as a defensive missile, does not fall under the guidelines of the MTCR, its components may be used in offensive missiles, and sales of this equipment would therefore contravene the MTCR.

Israeli sources, the newsletter says, assert that Washington is seeking to inhibit Israeli defense exports for "purely selfish reasons" — to allow U.S. defense contractors to export technology which the United States prohibits Israel from selling.

Israel unemployment hits 9.3 percent in May

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Unemployment rose to a seasonally adjusted 9.3 percent in May, its highest level since the third quarter of 1993, according to initial figures the Central Bureau of Statistics published Monday.

Some 210,000 people were out of work in May.

The monthly unemployment total has risen steadily in recent months from 8.6 percent in February through 8.8 percent in March and 9.1 percent in April.

Under a barrage of criticism over the government's macroeconomic policies, Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman pledged Monday that "unemployment is at the top of the Treasury's list of priorities in constructing economic policy for 1999." However, he failed to give examples of specific programs aimed at reducing unemployment.