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>Israel Faxx
>JN April 30, 2001, Vol. 9, No. 74

Israel, Egypt Hold Optimistic Views on Middle East Peace

By Dale Gavlak (VOA-Cairo)

Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers expressed hope that cease-fire talks between Israel and the Palestinians will succeed. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres came to Cairo to discuss an Arab initiative aimed at ending seven months of violence, however, Egypt denied that a cease-fire had been agreed upon.

Both ministers described the talks as very important and focused. Israel, they said, was given an opportunity to express its concerns and suggestions regarding the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative.

They clarified that a cease-fire agreement had not yet been reached, but that Israel and the Palestinians are talking toward that end. They emphasized that the violence must stop.

Peres expressed hope for the cease-fire talks. "Once the cease-fire has taken place and the indication of it is seen, I hope the opportunity to return to negotiations is very much a promise and a good way to start."

Peres told the Egyptian leaders that if violence ends, Israel would lift the closure of the West Bank and Gaza because the Palestinian population should not suffer because of the present circumstances.

Peres said Israel was not planning to build new settlements, but that existing settlements should be allowed to develop naturally. "We are not going to establish new settlements only to answer the needs of normal life. I do not say that this is an agreed version between the Egyptians, the Palestinians or ourselves. But our position is clear and approved by the Knesset, and this will guide our future actions."

But Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa quickly defended the Arab stand, saying they want to see all settlement activity stopped because it undermines the peace process. "The Israeli foreign minister has informed the president formally that government of Israel shall not build settlements, new settlements, any additional settlements. He talked about the natural growth or whatever, and here we sharply differ with this point, this policy because of the fact that there are a lot of empty settlements."


Fighting Erupts in Gaza Despite "Cease-Fire"

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Middle East violence flared, despite signs that Israelis and Palestinians had worked out a cease-fire accord. That has been denied by the Palestinians. Nearly 500 people, more than 400 of them Palestinians, have died since the start of the Palestinian uprising against Israel in September.

Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted in Gaza as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spoke in Cairo of the sides taking steps toward a truce. The Egyptian president made his announcement after Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat took a series of steps to halt seven months of bloodshed.

Palestinian officials said Arafat ordered his security forces to halt shooting and mortar attacks against Israelis from areas under his control. He also ordered the arrest of a senior member of the militant Islamic group, Hamas, which opposes peace talks and has called for Palestinians to maintain their violent struggle until Israel is destroyed.

Arafat also reportedly took strong action to reign in members of his own Fatah faction of the PLO, who have been launching attacks against Israelis. He reportedly ordered his security forces to disband groups within Fatah that had been engaged in violence.


Islam Expanding Rapidly in U.S.

By Nico Colombant (VOA-Washington)

A new report shows Islam is growing fast in the United States. The study, done for the Council on American Islamic Relations, says there are now at least eight million Muslims in the United States. And it says there are now about 1,500 mosques in the country, a 25 percent increase since the mid 1990s, with many more planned or under construction.

The report's main author, Ihsan Bagby, says Islam owes its rapid growth in the country to tens of thousands of conversions each year, immigration from Islamic countries, and a high birth rate among Muslims. Most of the conversions are reported among African-Americans, who often find Islam as a possible replacement to broken down families.

Bagby said the report also showed that practicing Muslims increasingly want to use their religious group identity as a base for political expression. "This shows you that the mosque is and will be in the future a springboard, a platform for Muslim involvement in the American society. Sixty-one percent of all [leaders of] mosques said that in the past year they wrote or called a politician. Seventy percent said that they wrote or called the media at least one time in the past year."

Still, Muslims in the country lack political leaders with mainstream appeal. Popular Muslims are mostly athletes - such as basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon, retired boxing great Muhammad Ali, or the recently crowned world heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman.

Most Muslims in the country are not African-American or Middle Eastern as is usually believed but immigrants from South Asia. During the 2000 presidential campaign, many prominent Muslim groups, like the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations, endorsed Republican candidate George W. Bush, attracted by some of his conservative policies.

However, a Muslim activist in the Washington, D.C. area, Hodari Abdul-Ali, said there are differences between immigrant Muslims looking for a political voice and African-American Muslims who mostly want social progress through Islam.

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