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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Oct. 11, 1995, V3, #183
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Mubarak Meets with Assad in Damascus

By Kim Reid (VOA-Cairo)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak traveled to Damascus Tuesday for talks with Syrian President Hafez al Assad. Egyptian officials say the two men discussed the Middle East peace process and Arab relations.

The Egyptian president's visit is intended to jump-start the flagging peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Sherif says Mubarak also briefed the Syrian leader on his talks last month in Washington with the US president.

Assad boycotted the Washington meeting, which brought together Mubarak and Jordan's King Hussein to witness Israel and the PLO signing a new agreement, with President Clinton hosting the proceedings.

Diplomats say Assad's absence from the meeting and negative Syrian news coverage of the accord indicates Syria is not quite ready to sit at the negotiating table with Israel.

Syria insists on Israel's unconditional withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, before talks can begin. Lower-level meetings have taken place off and on at the military attache level.

Israel says it will not withdraw troops and will talk about it later. It has insisted first on discussing a phased withdrawal from the Golan, which would include keeping some permanent Israeli military installations on the strategic plateau. Syria has so far refused.

Mubarak's visit is the first in a series of gentle arm-twistings in store for Assad. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to travel to the Middle East this month in a bid to revitalize Syrian-Israeli negotiations.

First Withdrawal Takes Place; Terrorists Released

By Al Pessin (VOA-Salfit Village)

Israel made its first small withdrawal under its new peace accord with the Palestinians Tuesday, handing over an administrative compound in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus. In Salfit Village, hundreds of local residents cheered the departure of the Israeli soldiers who had operated the compound.

It is not an impressive facility. Just a few concrete buildings with barren offices, windows with no glass, a high fence topped with rolls of barbed wire. But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the several hundred people who turned out -- much of the village's population -- to cheer the raising of the Palestinian flag, and jeer the departure of an Israeli colonel and his entourage.

In a particularly poignant moment, a young boy smashed a clay pot next to the last jeep in the convoy -- a symbolic Arab gesture of good riddance, made upon the departure of an unwanted guest who stayed too long.

The Israeli colonel, who refused to speak to reporters in English, said in Hebrew that this is a first step, but only a partial one. He noted that this office, for now, will not be replaced with anything and that local residents will have to go to other towns to find Israeli offices still issuing travel permits and other documents.

The Palestinian Authority took control of the compound in Salfit on Tuesday, but it will not begin providing administrative services there for several weeks.

The Palestinian official who received the compound, Ahmed Farres, said his enjoyment of the moment was somewhat reduced by problems with prisoner releases on Tuesday. But still, he said, he was pleased that this aspect of the peace accord is at least starting to be implemented.

"It's a historic day for Salfit, for the people here, and also for the Palestinian Authority that we started to receive cities, villages, towns. To me it seems that the people in Israel and the Israel government at least are convinced that the period of occupation is gone, mentally, and they cooperate with us, as Palestinians, to establish a comprehensive peace."

Half an hour's drive away, in Nablus, Israeli prison officials released several dozen prisoners into the waiting arms of loved ones. Most of the prisoners were pleased that the peace accord was being implemented and all had to sign a non-violence pledge. But one man who was set free spoke defiantly, just a few meters from the prison door.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sami Zahran said he does not believe in the peace process and that resistance should continue as long as the occupation does. He said prisoner releases are less important than establishing a Palestinian state.

Hundreds of other prisoners stayed behind, refusing to sign the non-violence pledge, or being held back by a dispute over the release of prisoners convicted of criminal offenses, or declining to be set free to protest Israel's decision not to release four Palestinian women. Many, many families left the prisons disappointed on Tuesday.

As darkness fell, the last Israeli jeep left the administrative compound, chased down the street by a few stones thrown by Palestinian youths, just, it seemed, for old time's sake.

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