Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The editor in chief of Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Achronot, resigned this week after being charged with wiretapping the paper's main rival, Ma'ariv.

The indictment against Moshe Vardi was the latest development in the yearlong wiretapping investigation into the nation's tabloids.

Ma'ariv editor Ofer Nimrodi was charged in August with ordering wiretaps on senior executives and public figures at his newspaper and at Yediot.

The Justice Ministry said the charges were filed Monday against Vardi and Ruti Ben Ari, a former assignment editor at Yediot. Vardi announced his resignation Wed-nesday.

The indictment reportedly said the two Yediot editors are accused of bugging Nimrodi's cellular phone, ordering the wiretapping of a former Yediot editor who moved to Ma'ariv and conspiring to wiretap Ma'ariv's graphic artist.

Davar Rishon daily closing amid losses

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Hebrew daily Davar Rishon is expected to close this week, after an unsuccessful attempt to get the financially strapped newspaper back on its feet.

Davar Rishon, which was previously called Davar, was founded by Israel's Histadrut trade union federation. The newspaper was taken over by employees last year and renamed after officials of the Histadrut labor union decided that they could not provide the funds to cover the paper's growing deficit.

The newspaper, with a circulation of about 20,000, continued to be published under the leadership of veteran journalist Ron Ben Yishai.

But efforts failed to find a private investor who would rescue the paper from its financial difficulties. He said the paper needed some $2 million to cover its losses.

Only three major dailies will be left in Israel: Yediot Achronot, which has a circulation of about 250,000; Ma'ariv, with about 160,000 readers; and Ha'aretz, whose circulation stands at about 65,000.

Amnesty tells Israel it must stop torture

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The head of the human rights group Amnesty International has warned Israel about the legalization of what he described as torture used by Israeli security agents when interrogating suspected terrorists.

Pierre Sane, Amnesty's secretary general, brought his concerns before Justice Minister David Liba'i during a visit last week to Israel. Sane's warning comes as Israel plans to establish formal guidelines for interrogation procedures carried out by the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service.

The proposed guidelines include a clause allowing for the use of moderate physical pressure, including violent shaking, when Shin Bet agents interrogate suspected terrorists.

Sane's visit, which included a trip to Palestinian self-rule areas, was aimed at ensuring that human rights are respected by both Israel and the Palestinians as the peace process advances.

Trade imbalance soars to new high

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel's trade deficit reached one of its highest levels ever in January, with imports exceeding exports by more than $1 billion.

The Central Bureau of Statistics said this week that imports last month totaled $2.6 billion and exports about $1.6 billion.

The deficit was 10 percent higher than the same period a year ago.

The 1995 trade deficit totaled a record $10.2 billion.

Latest tourism plan urges building boom

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel unveiled a 10-year plan aimed at developing its tourism facilities to accommodate an expected 5 million tourists annually.

The plan includes projects to build facilities in 14 areas, including the Golan Heights, whose future is under discussion in Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Tourism Minister Uzi Baram and Interior Minister Haim Ramon said last week the development plan calls for building new roads and tripling the number of hotel rooms from the current 40,000.

Israel expects the number of tourists annually to double by 2010 from the 2.5 million in 1995. Each tourist spends an average of $1,300 in Israel.

Israeli, Arab leaders discuss '67 refugees

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Representatives from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian government met Tuesday in Cairo to discuss the fate of Palestinian refugees from the 1967 Six Day War.

The participants agreed to form a subcommittee to gather information on the refugees.

During the five rounds of multilateral negotiations that have taken place in the past two years, the committee has not reached any practical solutions concerning the refugees.

The sides still disagree on issues such as the definition of a refugee, how many exist and the timetable for a possible repatriation.

Arab parties estimate that the number of Arab or Palestinian refugees and their offspring could reach 2.5 million.

Israel rejects that figure outright, putting it closer to 200,000.