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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       April 23, 1996 V4, #73
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Christopher Conveys Assad Position to Peres

By Ron Pemstein (VOA-Damascus)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher met Monday with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus. The president has been considering US proposals for a ceasefire in southern Lebanon.

Christopher presented the US position on the ceasefire to Assad in two separate sessions at the president's palace. State department spokesman Nicholas Burns says the US proposal was drafted following the first round of talks with the Syrian and Israeli leaders.

The plan was for the Secretary of State to return to Israel this evening for the second time to convey Syria's position. The United States wants Syria and Lebanon to use their influence with the Hizbullah fighters in southern Lebanon to end attacks on northern Israel.

Israel says it will agree to a ceasefire so long as it is confident the attacks will not resume.

Palestinians Consider Charter Revision

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The Palestinian National Council was to convene in Gaza Monday evening with the main item on its agenda the amendment of the Palestinian Charter to remove its anti-Israel clauses.

The PLO made peace with Israel nearly three-years ago, with the famous handshake between the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the organization's Charter was never changed to reflect the peace. Indeed, making such a change was one of Arafat's original commitments to Israel, and many Israelis are angry it was never done.

So in the latest Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a deadline was set -- May 7. Israel agreed to allow hundreds of Council members to enter Gaza to attend the meeting -- including many known terrorists and other militants who are expected to vote against any changes.

Palestinian researcher and analyst Ghassan al-Khatib says the process of changing the Charter will not be easy. "This task seems to be difficult because of the recent developments, especially in Lebanon and before that here in the territories, meaning the closure and the other Israeli measures. In addition to the fact that Israel did not honor some of their commitments in the agreement, like the redeployment from Hebron and the safe passages and the release of some prisoners and other examples."

Still, al-Khatib believes Arafat will be able to use his prestige and political know-how to get the changes approved. But he says that will not necessarily reflect the views of the majority of the Palestinian people, who tell his researchers they favor peace, but are not satisfied with how this peace process is going.

"The majority is willing to accept a change that will recognize Israel, in return for an Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state. They are not getting that. That is why I think that a resolution of the PNC that would change the Covenant without anything in return that is equivalent to the subject under discussion, in my view, will not reflect the view of the majority of the public."

The Palestinian National Charter is filled with references to destroying Israel, calls for armed struggle and criticism of Zionism. For that reason, rather than try to amend nearly every clause of the document, many observers expect the Council members to write a new Charter. Israel says that would be acceptable as long as the new document explicitly cancels the old one.

The Council members have given themselves three days to complete their work, ending Wednesday, Israel's Independence Day. But al-Khatib says the council members can vote to give themselves more time if they need it.

Lebanese Mourn Their Dead

By Jennifer Griffin (VOA-Beirut)

Lebanon observed a day of mourning Monday to remember those who have died since Israel launched Operation Grapes of Wrath 12 days ago. Since the fighting began, at least 137 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, have been killed.

Across the nation, storekeepers drew their shutters closed, placing black flags outside their homes and shops in memory of the dead. All activity halted at noon for a moment of silence for those who have died in the 12-day offensive. Israel launched the operation to destroy the Iranian-backed Hizbullah terrorists and halt their rocket attacks on northern Israel.

Inside a large refugee tent at the UN base in the southern port city, Tyre, mothers comforted their crying babies. The cries were replaced by somber quiet for just a minute, while several dozen children stood outside at attention holding burning candles to observe the minute of silence.

Several kilometers up the road, refugees at another UN base were not so lucky last Thursday when Israeli artillery shells slammed into the UN base where they had taken refuge, killing nearly 100. As a nation tries to recover, and UN diplomats meet in Syria and Israel to try to broker an end to the fighting, the shells keep landing on south Lebanon.

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