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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Aug. 11, 1995, V3, #146
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Peres-Arafat's Fourth Day in Taba

By Laurie Kassman (Cairo)

PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are meeting for a fourth straight day in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba. They are hammering away at disputes over six issues that are blocking agreement on expanding Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank. The Palestinians are studying Israeli counterproposals on several issues.

The two men are trying to remove the obstacles to an autonomy agreement. They have been reviewing the latest Israeli counterproposals on several key points still in dispute. Officials on both sides suggest that if enough progress is made in this session, Arafat and Peres could initial a draft of the points they do agree on so their negotiating teams can finish up the details.

A PLO spokesman says the two sides still differ on the deployment of police in West Bank rural areas, security in Hebron, as well as water-sharing rights and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Peres returned briefly to Israel late Wednesday for consultations with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But he did not specify what proposals he had brought back to the negotiating table.

Hizbullah Prepares for Peace?

By Patricia Golan (Baalbeck, Lebanon)

One of the most potent foes of the Middle East peace process is the militant Islamic group Hizbullah, which means "Party of God." The Iranian-backed group has been at war with Israel for 13-years, and has earned a reputation as one of the world's leading terrorist organizations. But Hizbullah is attempting to change its image. The party has entered the political arena in Lebanon and is cooperating with Lebanese authorities in trying to attract tourists to its stronghold, Baalbeck.

Baalbeck is an isolated town of 40,000 people. Tourists used to flock here to see its breathtaking Roman ruins and the town was once the center of international music festivals.

Today, the town is dominated by symbols of Hizbullah -- larger-than-life portraits of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and slogans of the Iranian revolution such as --"Israel is a Cancer and Must be Abolished From the Earth." Recently, new signs -- in English -- have been put up, directed at the trickle of Western tourists returning to Baalbeck.

"Hizbullah welcomes you by his pioneer values"-- reads one poster. And another --"Islam is a religion of compassion and morality."

There are other changes. Hizbullah members no longer reprimand visitors for wearing miniskirts or shorts. Hizbullah is cooperating with the Lebanese Tourist Ministry in putting in light and sound equipment in the town.

One hotel owner says the bad reputation of Hizbullah, together with the drug trade in the area did great harm to Baalbeck. But in the past two years, the newly reconstituted Lebanese army -- with liberal help from Syria -- has managed to almost eliminate the Hashish plantations which used to fund local warlords.

A turning point for the Hizbullah movement came in 1992 when the party ran candidates for Lebanon's parliament -- winning eight of 128 seats. It has also become an important factor as a welfare network in Lebanon, supplying health care and other services the government does not, or cannot provide.

Sheikh Subhi Toufaili is the former Secretary-General of Hizbullah, and now the most senior religious figure in the Baalbeck area. He greets visitors in his heavily guarded house wearing the black robes and white turban of Shiite Muslim clerics who have studied in Iran.

Toufaili rejects the idea Hizbullah is trying to boost its image. He says this is not a new strategy. He says Hizbullah is not an enemy of other human beings, only of evil. He says Hizbullah wants to welcome tourists and foreigners.

Toufaili quotes from the Koran to show continuing resistance against Israel is commanded by God. But he admits once a deal is struck between Israel and Syria, Hizbullah will not be as free to act as it is today.

Political analyst Adnan Iskandar of the American University in Beirut believes Hizbullah realizes once there is a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, with Iran's acquiescence, their role will change dramatically.

"Hizbullah can see the writing on the wall. If Iran and Syria are in agreement, I think Hizbullah realizes now that they have to integrate themselves into the mainstream political process. They accept the system as it is. They are now projecting an image as another political group in Lebanon that will work through the democratic process."

Prime minister Rafik Hariri says Hizbullah commands the respect of most Lebanese because it alone is trying to drive the Israeli troops out of south Lebanon.

Hariri is among those who believe Hizbullah will lose its significance once the Israelis withdraw as part of a settlement between Israel and Syria. Hizbullah's future depends on external factors. In the meantime, it appears intent on being ready for any political eventuality.

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