Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Air Force has launched an investigation into the crash of a helicopter in the Judean desert this week that killed seven soldiers.

The helicoper crashed Sunday afternoon, after dropping off three soldiers as part of a training exercise. Seconds after lifting off, it crashed to the ground and burst into flames.

Two soldiers who had been sitting in the back of the helicopter were hospitalized and are in moderate condition.

The committee investigating the crash, appointed by Herzl Bodinger, the air force commander, began immediately to determine whether the crash was caused by human error or a technical mishap.

There was no flight-data recorder in the helicopter, and the pilot did not make any emergency communications before the crash. But there were some recorded communications from the flight and one of the soldiers who was on board to photograph the exercise took pictures.

The Yassur-type helicopter that crashed has been used by the air force since 1969 and is considered the "backbone" of its cargo helicopters.

Only six Ethiopians have donated blood

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Only six Ethiopian immigrants have given blood since it was disclosed that Israel's blood bank was throwing out Ethiopian-donated supplies.

All six pints have been frozen pending recommendations by the Navon Committee, investigating the blood bank Magen David Adom's policy of not informing Ethiopian donors their blood was being discarded.

Israeli blood bank officials say they discarded the Ethiopian blood because a higher proportion of Ethiopians carry the virus that causes AIDS. Magen David Adom discarded donations mostly of Ethiopian soldiers who had given blood as part of their army service.

Magen David never told the Ethiopians of the policy, saying they did not want to embarass them, but when the policy became public thousands of Ethiopians protested.

Ethiopians clashed with police outside Prime Minister Shimon Peres's office, sparking debate about the treatment and absorption of Ethiopian Jews here.

Israel breaks up Palestinian meeting

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Police this week stopped a Palestinian conference in eastern Jerusalem, saying the slated participation of Palestinian Authority officials violated Israeli law.

The conference was to have taken place at the YMCA in western Jerusalem. Palestinians planning to attend said an order banning the meeting and signed by Security Minister Moshe Shahal was handed to the YMCA manager.

The Israeli Knesset has passed a law barring the Palestinian Authority from conducting official activities inside Israel, with an underlying emphasis on Jerusalem, one of the thorniest issues to be resolved in the final-status negotiations.

Israel maintains Palestinian activities in Jerusalem are meant to establish Palestinian claims to the city before the negotiations start.

Israel delays pullout from West Bank city

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has delayed the army's redeployment from the West Bank city of Hebron until after Passover and linked the pullout to Palestinian control of terrorism.

When the pullback ultimately will occur depends on efforts by the Palestinian Authority to fight Islamic militants, Foreign Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday of last week.

"We expect to see broader and more practical results in the fight against terror," Barak said.

"When the security establishment feels that things are really happening, then the redeployment will be carried out in Hebron."

Redeployment was scheduled to have taken place Thursday of last week, according to the interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Israeli officials have also linked the pullout from Hebron to the Palestine National Council's revoking the anti-Israel clauses in the Palestinian covenant. The PNC is scheduled to meet no later than May 7.

Construction begins on West Bank mall

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Construction of a shopping mall near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron has begun, despite charges by Palestinians that Israel is violating the peace accords by continuing to build in the territories.

Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said he knew nothing about the project.

The Housing and Construction Ministry did not handle the request for building permits, since the shopping center has no residential units, Israel Radio reported.

Local council leaders in Judea and Samaria said all permits for the $4.5 million project, funded by a Swiss Jew, had been secured.

The council head of Karnei Shomron said the mall would help develop the area, especially with the current freeze on building of housing.