Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JPS) — A poll has found that almost 60 percent of Palestinians do not expect a lasting peace with Israel, but almost 50 percent are optimistic about the future and 70 percent support continued peace talks.

The survey, conducted by the Nablus-based Center for Palestine Research and Studies before agreement was reached on the interim accords known as Oslo 2, showed more than 66 percent thought the Palestinian Authority was headed in the right direction.

Support for Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat was up to 54 percent after dipping below 50 percent in July. Support for Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin was also up from 13 percent to 17 percent.

The number of those who said they would participate in the Palestinian council elections increased from 68 percent to 74 percent. More than 97 percent supported the right to freedom of speech, and 86 percent preferred elections over appointments to political positions. Both figures are up on previous polls.

The poll among 1,190 interviewees had a 3 percent margin of error.

2 IDF soldiers killed in Lebanon fighting

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Two Israel Defense Force soldiers were killed and an officer was wounded in southern Lebanon on Monday.

Sgt. Aviv Mor, 20, of Haifa, and radioman Pvt. Uri David, 19, of Bat Yam, were killed when fierce mortar fire struck their outpost near the village of Blatt, in the western sector of the zone.

Sec.-Lt. Shalev Davran sustained light shrapnel wounds in his hands. He was listed in good condition at Nahariya Government Hospital.

A source said the outpost, at Karkom, had been on heightened alert with most soldiers already in combat positions and expecting Hezbollah attacks on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, although attacks in that area are rare.

"But there is nothing you can do against direct hits," the source said. "It's tragic to say, but it is a statistical fact that some mortar shells will hit you directly, while most won't. The two soldiers who were killed were on their way to man combat positions from which they could fire back."

Housing prices rise above expectations

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Although government officials say housing prices can't go any higher, they continue their upward climb, mainly due to population growth.

August inflation figures show that housing prices, which include apartment prices and rentals, went up 2.9 percent last month. It was the highest housing index since April.

The average price of a three-room apartment in periphery cities like Netanya and Rishon Lezion is about $170,000, while a four-room apartment in Petah Tikva costs about $230,000. A four-room apartment in Ramat Aviv Gimel valued at about $200,000 five years ago is now worth more than a half-a-million dollars.

According to a Bank Tefahot survey of the public's forecast of the real estate market, 57 percent of the public expect prices to go up in the coming year compared with 9 percent that predicted a drop in prices.

Among the respondents that forecast a rise in prices, 44.5 percent expect housing prices to increase 10 percent or less, 23 percent forecast prices to rise 10-20 percent, and another 11 percent forecast prices to increase more than 20 percent.

It takes an average income earner in Israel with a gross monthly salary of $1,300 about seven to eight years to purchase an apartment worth $100,000 to $120,000, and 12 to 13 years to buy an apartment for $150,000. The average number of years required for buying a similar apartment in France or England is about six years.