Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Multilateral negotiations aimed at securing cooperation throughout the Middle East convened for the first time in nearly four years.

At Tuesday's one-day session in Moscow, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told the delegates that regional cooperation could boost the ongoing peace negotiations involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Syria.

United States and Russia co-chaired Tuesday's gathering, which brought together officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Syria and Lebanon boycotted the talks.

The multilateral talks were launched at the 1991 Madrid peace conference. They were suspended during the tenure of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when peace moves between Israel and its Arab neighbors were largely on hold.

Some progress was made at Tuesday's meeting when a final declaration announced dates for the resumption of talks involving four working groups. The first of those talks, focusing on water, will take place April 11 and 12 in Oman.

A group on economic cooperation will then meet May 8 to 11 in Jordan; a group on refugees, May 16 to 18 in Ottawa; and the committee on the environment, May 31 to June 1 in Tunis.

Syrian newspaper denies Holocaust

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as "ridiculous" a Syrian newspaper article that denied the extent of the Holocaust.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday in Moscow, she said that such articles "clearly do not help the situation."

A day earlier, the editor of the state-sponsored Tishrin newspaper accused Israel of exaggerating the gravity of the Holocaust to extort money and sympathy from European governments, and mask its own atrocities against the Palestinians.

Palestinians, Israelis launch marathon talks

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat planned to meet yesterday at the Erez border crossing to discuss ways to advance peace talks.

The two planned to focus on whether they can meet a mid-February deadline for drawing up a framework for a final peace accord. The meeting is part of 10-day marathon of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began this week in a secret location near Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's mother buried in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Cela Netanyahu, mother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was buried Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Cela Netanyahu, 87, died Monday night at Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital, where she was admitted several weeks ago. She is survived by her husband, Benzion Netanyahu, and two sons, Benjamin and Iddo.

Teachers strike ends after nearly 2 weeks

JERUSALEM (JPS) — After almost two weeks of negotiations, the Israeli teachers strike ended on Jan. 27.

Nearly 1 million children and 100,000 teachers were scheduled to return to school last Friday, but a freak snowstorm prolonged their time off until Sunday.

Both the Histadrut Teachers Union and the government claimed success because the agreement was written ambiguously enough to permit the union to say it had achieved a hefty advance — albeit 5 percent and not the 15 percent it had sought — and the government to deny that the budget framework was exceeded even by a single shekel.

Teachers will receive monthly bonuses of 5 percent of their salaries for the next year. Afterward, they will get a 1.9 percent wage increase.