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>Israel Faxx
>JN May 25, 2001, Vol. 9, No. 91

Indyk: Negev is Better Than West Bank for Settlement

Israel Faxx Staff

The Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheva honored U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk with an honorary doctorate. He suggested that Israeli investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967 would have been better spent in the Negev.

"Imagine how different things would look now if all the effort invested in the settlements in the territories had been made in the Negev."

At Least 15 Die as Jerusalem Wedding Hall Collapses

By Meredith Buel (VOA-Jerusalem) & CNN

At least 15 people are dead and more than 200 were injured Thursday evening after a wedding hall collapsed in southeast Jerusalem. Hundreds of people were dancing at the wedding when the hall collapsed in what police say was apparently an accident.

Ehud Olmert, mayor of Jerusalem, said "many more" people were trapped in the rubble. He said the roof of the building collapsed onto the fourth floor, where a wedding party was being held. That floor collapsed onto the lower floors, which were empty or nearly empty, Olmert said.

Jerusalem police said the collapse was not a terrorist attack. Rescue teams and ambulances from throughout Israel were called to the scene, while hospitals issued urgent appeals for blood.

A police commander told CNN between 700 and 1,400 people were inside at the time attending a wedding reception. The wedding hall, which is also known to host discos, is in the Talpiot industrial area.

A wedding was underway when top floor of the four-story building gave way, sending people, tables and chairs plunging to the ground. Witnesses say the concrete structure crashed through the floors below, leaving metal cables hanging at twisted angles from the side of the building. Witnesses say many people were trapped under the rubble, and rescue crews worked to free people from the collapsed building.

Israel Shoots Down Lebanese Civilian Plane

By VOA News &

The Israeli air force has shot down a small Lebanese civilian plane over Israel near the Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Tel Aviv. The pilot was killed.

An Israeli military spokesman said the Cessna aircraft was shot down after the pilot failed to respond to repeated warnings from Israeli fighter jets and helicopters and was nearing populated areas. Israeli officials say they feared the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Lebanese officials identified the pilot as 43-year-old Stefan Nikolian, a Lebanese of Armenian heritage. They say he was a student pilot and took off from Beirut airport without permission, leaving his instructor on the tarmac. Lebanese officials later said the pilot suffered from psychological problems.

The Israeli spokesman said the air force went on alert when it noticed the plane turned in the direction of Israel. The Lebanese army said Israeli warplanes intercepted the small plane over Lebanese territory and escorted it into Israeli airspace. Israel denied that claim.

An army spokesman says Israeli warplanes and helicopters made repeated attempts to contact the plane, including firing a warning shot, but the pilot refused to respond or identify himself.

Dudu Cohen, a resident of Mikhmoret, lives in the town's first row of houses near the beach: He told Arutz-7, "Around 11:30 AM, I saw a little low-flying plane surrounded weirdly by three helicopters. Suddenly a burst of fire came out of one, and the light plane burst into pieces, which fell all around us."

Other reports said that two F-16s were following the Cessna, and were later joined by Apache helicopters. Residents all along the coast also said they saw the low-flying plane.

An investigation is underway to ascertain whether the lone pilot was in fact on his way to commit a suicide attack, or was a beginning pilot who had lost his way. Air Force Commander Maj.Gen. Dan Halutz explained that even in the latter eventuality, the danger of the plane's accidental crashing into a residential area was too great to allow the plane to continue flying.

According to CNN's Mike Hanna, the Israeli army said it took the decision to down the plane "in the light of repeated threats by Hizbullah to take some sort of cross-border action."

According to the Associated Press, Hizbullah radio said Nikolian arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday from Cyprus, although it did not say if he was linked to that guerrilla group.

Nemeh Malek, director of the plane's owner, JR Executives, said the pilot had flown three or four times this week with a trained pilot, but was not licensed to fly without an instructor.

CNN's Brent Sadler said Nikolian had turned up for a lesson at 11 a.m. and the instructor had told him to "go to the plane and prepare it." The trainee pilot then switched the plane on and took off.

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