Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Brothers Yigal and Hagai Amir and their friend Dror Adani pleaded innocent Monday in Tel Aviv District Court to charges of plotting the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The lawyers for Hagai Amir and Adani said their clients were not aware of any plan by Yigal Amir, who has confessed to the killing, to murder the prime minister. Rabin was shot as he left a Nov. 4 peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Yigal Amir, who is being tried separately on murder charges, has said he meant only to paralyze Rabin and to remove him from the political arena. His trial will resume March 3.

His lawyers said this week that they may consider arguing that Amir was not in full control of himself at the time of the shooting. Yigal Amir has agreed to undergo psychiatric tests.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldier Arik Schwartz was convicted by a military court of the illegal possession of army weapons and of unbecoming behavior. Schwartz confessed to passing on weapons to the Amir brothers. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Israeli satellite to orbit alongside probes of Arabs

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel reportedly will launch its Amos-I communications satellite in May.

The $350 million satellite, developed by Israel Aircraft Industries, will be launched May 7 on a French rocket. The rocket will be in orbit for 11 years and be located next to Arab communications satellites.

The launch comes after Israel sent out a satellite last year that crossed over Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Israel and Tunis courting diplomatic ties with letters

JERUSALEM (JTA) — In the latest sign of warming ties between Israel and Tunisia, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres recently wrote a letter of holiday greeting to the president of the North African Muslim nation.

The letter, in which Peres said he prays "to the Almighty that all children of Abraham may live in peace and fraternity in our region," is believed to be the first such high-level correspondence between the two countries.

The letter to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali came at the end of the monthlong Ramadan holiday. After several fits and starts, Israel and Tunisia agreed last month to establish low-level diplomatic relations by exchanging interest sections. Tunisia will open an interest section in Gaza as well.

"The two nations are on track for the opening of offices in Tunis, Tel Aviv and Gaza" in the coming weeks, said Jason Isaacson, director of government and international affairs for the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C.

Israeli anti-missile flies in latest tests off the coast

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has conducted what it described as a successful test launch of a missile intended to destroy incoming rockets.

The test of the Arrow 2 anti-missile missile was carried out last month off the coast of Israel. The missile destroyed itself as planned a minute after its launch.

As in a previous test-launching in July, the missile's ability to target incoming missiles was not tested.

The two-stage, solid-fuel missile system, which the United States is helping fund, is expected to be operational in 1997.

Israeli military experts have cited the country's need for a dependable anti-missile system after the U.S.-built Patriot largely failed during the Gulf War.

Israeli diplomat was spying for Mossad from Moscow

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli diplomat expelled from Moscow at the beginning of the month was spying for the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, according to reports from Russia.

The Israeli reportedly was discovered to be a spy when a Russian citizen was arrested in December after being accused of passing the diplomat classified documents in exchange for large sums of money.

Israel's Foreign Ministry acknowledged earlier this month that Russia expelled the diplomat for "behavior unbecoming diplomatic norms."

A Russian news agency reported that Israel did not object to the expulsion.