Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel's High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition calling on the state to distribute gas masks to all Palestinians.

The petition, brought by human rights groups, argued that the army is in full control of the territories and is therefore obliged to provide gas masks for all Palestinians in case of an attack by Iraq.

But the state argued that the military only enters Palestinians areas in cases of self-defense and had not imposed a full military takeover.

The state also noted that Israel had already decided to provide gas masks to any Palestinians living in areas under full Israeli control.

But it said the Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing such services in areas under total Palestinian control.

The state also noted if the Palestinian Authority requests gas masks in a case of real need, Israel would consider it, Army Radio reported. In another development, the army agreed to begin making gas masks available to foreign workers in Tel Aviv on Wednesday instead of waiting for an emergency situation.

Archaeological center dedicated in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Jewish leader Mortimer Zuckerman dedicated an archaeological research center in his daughter's honor in Jerusalem.

Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, opened the Abigail Zuckerman Educational Center on Sunday.

The center essentially is an archaeological dig next to the Western Wall Tunnel that will include educational material on the history of the site and of Jerusalem.

"This is one way that I felt I wanted to celebrate her birth," Zuckerman said of his daughter, who is now 5. The dig to date has uncovered artifacts from the First Temple period; a mikvah, or ritual bath, from the Second Temple period; and a water cistern from the Crusader period. "This is a different kind of real estate than I'm normally associated with," said Zuckerman, a New York-based real estate magnate.

Iraqi official refuses Israel reporter's inquiry

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Iraq's deputy prime minister refused to answer a question by an Israeli journalist at a news conference following his audience with Pope John Paul II last Friday.

Menachem Gantz, Rome correspondent for Ma'ariv, asked Tariq Aziz whether Baghdad might attack Israel should the United States go to war against Iraq.

Aziz's refusal to answer prompted boos and whistles from several of the 100 or so journalists in the room. About 20 reporters, including journalists from Israel and Germany, walked out.

On Sunday, the mayor of Rome refused to meet with Aziz after Aziz refused to answer the question from Gantz.

"I cannot accept that a public figure like yourself, the representative of another country, can set a veto and discriminate against someone, denying them the right to express themselves, no matter what position they may represent," Mayor Walter Veltroni said in a letter to Aziz.