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>JN July 10, 2000, Vol. 8, No. 118

Assad is Expected to be Elected

By Laurie Kassman (VOA-Cairo)

Syrians go to the polls Monday to vote yes or no for Bashar al Assad to succeed his father as president. Hafez el-Assad passed away June 10 after more than 30-years in power. Bashar al-Assad, or Dr. Bashar as he is known in Syria, is the only candidate in the vote. The question is not whether he will be elected president but by what percentage of the vote. His father, who ruled Syria for three decades, traditionally received more than 90 percent.


Camp David Summit Starts Tuesday

By David Gollust (VOA-White House)

Senior Clinton administration officials say the splintering of Israel's coalition government need not prevent Prime Minister Ehud Barak from negotiating a final-status peace deal with the Palestinians at this week's three-way summit with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and President Clinton. The leaders convene Tuesday at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Officials here say the defection of some of Barak's coalition partners is hardly an ideal way to begin the summit. But they insist that Barak got a mandate to seek peace with his big win in last year's Israeli election, and will have the political clout to get any agreement through the parliament and a promised national referendum.

The coalition crisis in Israel complicates what U.S. officials say is an already risky diplomatic attempt by Clinton to broker a final-status peace deal after lower-level negotiations reached a stalemate.

Appearing Sunday on CBS' "Face-the-Nation," White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said both Barak and Arafat want to complete a deal and are aware of what could happen in the region if their self-imposed Sept. 13 deadline is not reached.

"I believe that Prime Minister Barak is committed -- deeply committed -- to trying to reach a peace agreement. I believe Chairman Arafat would like to reach a peace agreement. This is not easy. There is no guarantee of success. But one thing I'm certain of: if we don't make this effort to reach an agreement, there will be a slide to turmoil."

Hanging over the summit is a pledge by Arafat to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood Sept. 13 regardless of the outcome of the negotiations -- and threats by Israel to respond by annexing parts of the West Bank and Gaza strip if that happened. On the CNN program "Late Edition," Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat said the statehood date has been set because the peace talks can't be open-ended. But he stressed there is no desire on the Palestinian side for a September confrontation or a return to bloodshed.

"We don't plan violence. We don't want violence. We don't need violence. We need to seek a win-win situation between Palestinians and Israelis. And irrespective of how fragile this peace process is, this is the only vehicle."

Appearing on the same program, Israeli peace negotiator and deputy defense minister Ephriam Sheh said Israel has contingency plans to deal with any worst-case scenario in the Palestinian areas but that all its efforts now are aimed at making Camp David a success.

"A collapse of this summit may lead to despair in both sides and despair leads to violence and violence leads to terrible crisis that would put an end to the dialogue. That's why I think it's so important. The alternative is so horrible that failure of Camp David is inconceivable."

While the Israeli negotiator cast the Camp David meeting as a last chance for peace, Erekat said it need not be seen as a "one-shot" proposition. He said if an agreement is not finalized, the sides can keep on working.

Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, also interviewed on CNN, said despite the difficulty of the agenda the summit work can be completed by July 19, when Clinton is scheduled to leave on a trip to Japan.

The summit will deal with the most intractable issues of the peace process, including the status of Jerusalem, the rights of Palestinian refugees, and the borders of a Palestinian state.


Mother of 11 Learns to be an Auto Mechanic

By IsraelWire

Irit Ben-Yehuda, 40, the mother of 11 with number 12 on the way, explains that her obligations at home will not prevent her from fulfilling her life's dream, to become an auto mechanic. Ben-Yehuda, a resident of Afula, is currently a student in a WIZO training program. Upon completion, she will be a certified auto mechanic.

"If women can be combatants in Lebanon, there is no reason in the world they cannot be mechanics," stated Yossi Goshen, the director of the training program.

Ben-Yehuda added that she dreams of opening her own garage one day and provide employment for all her children.


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