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Mideast Briefs

Arafat and Barak prove they are tough, but the final-status talks will test their diplomatic skills to the utmost

by Douglas Davis

September 9, 1999 | 8:00 pm

Jewish relief agencies and the government of Israel are mobilizing to send rescue missions and humanitarian aid to Turkey, in the wake of a devastating earthquake that, at press time, may have claimed more than 4,000 lives.

The Israel Defense Force sent a 200-member rescue team to Turkey to help dig through the rubble for survivors.

Israel is planning to send three planes of emergency aid and personnel to help victims of Tuesday's powerful earthquake. Among those expected to travel to Turkey were members of the IDF disaster unit, which specializes in locating and extracting survivors from collapsed structures. Israeli President Ezer Weizman phoned Turkish President Suleyman Demirel to express his condolences.

The American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in conjunction with the United Jewish Communities (UJC) is accepting donations for earthquake relief. Donations will be used for non-sectarian earthquake relief. (Those who want their donations used solely for Turkey's Jewish community should note this on the memo line of their check and on the envelope).

No Turkish Jews appear to have been killed or injured in the disaster, and none of the country's Jewish institutions has been damaged, said Leon Levy, president of the New York-based American Sephardi Federation.

"Most of the damage was not where Jews normally live," said Levy, who is of Turkish descent and in frequent contact with the Jewish community there. Later reports, however, indicated some damage to Jewish community buildings in Istanbul, including synagogues.

Ten Israeli tourists vacationing in the Turkish hills are still missing after the quake.

Sallai Meridor, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was quoted in the daily Ha'aretz as saying that while none of Turkey's 23,000 Jews was hurt in the quake, many are hesitant to return to their homes in Istanbul for fear of more houses collapsing.

In recent years, Turkey -- a short plane ride from Tel Aviv and a strategic ally of Israel -- has become a popular tourist destination for Israelis.

Donations can be sent to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, 5700 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 2702; Los Angeles, CA 90036 and earmarked for Turkish Earthquake Relief. They will be immediately forwarded to the JDC.

Barak to Congress: Cool It

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has explicitly asked members of Congress to stop trying to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We do not want to give the Palestinians any pretext for delaying the peace talks or postponing them," Barak told Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., on Wednesday in Jerusalem, according to sources who were briefed on the meeting. Barak specifically asked the lawmakers to wait at least six months before taking up any new initiatives on the embassy.

Barak's move to stop congressional initiatives on Jerusalem could slow the rush of candidates who have staked out positions on the issue in recent weeks.

Last week, Republican front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Sen. Bill Bradley, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, both expressed support for moving the embassy. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has launched an all-but-announced Senate bid from New York, has also endorsed the move. -- Matthew Dorf, JTA

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