Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2000, Pages 38-41
Issues In The News
Compiled by Delinda C. Hanley
No Major Mideast Y2K Glitches:
As midnight arrived in country after country, there were no terrorist or doomsday cult attacks, nor major Y2K meltdowns. Instead, seven continents stepped joyously into the 21st Century. Computers guiding air traffic, electrical power grids and military operations slid smoothly into the year 2000. Billions of dollars spent on preventing computer bugs either paid off or were unnecessary. Key Middle East oil producers faced no serious problems in their huge oil and gas fields, export terminals and refineries.
U.N. Expects Oil-Led Growth in 2000:
According to a U.N. study released on Dec. 22, economic growth is expected to rise in every Arab state in the year 2000, fueled largely by higher oil prices. The report predicted that economic growth in GCC countries—Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait—would rise to 3.8 percent in 2000 from 2.2 percent in 1999, itself more than double the 1997 rate. There will be considerable positive spillover effects on other economies of the region (with the exception of Iraq) from the rise in oil prices that drove the 1999 rebound. The world’s oil producers have agreed to observe strict production limits until at least April 2000 to support prices now near their highest since the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis.
Saudis May Cut Internet Charges:
Saudi Arabia is considering a plan to slash some Internet charges by around 25 percent, a Saudi official said on Jan. 16. King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), the group charged since early 1999 with supervising the Internet for Saudi Arabia’s 18 million residents, will determine the exact size of the cut.
King Fahd Grants Ramadan Pardon:
Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd bin Abdel Aziz Al Saud approved pardons for more than 4,600 prisoners to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Jan. 7. It said 2,830 Saudi prisoners and 1,807 foreigners, all convicted of minor offenses, would be released under the amnesty.
Bahraini Crown Prince Visits U.S.:
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa arrived in the United States on Jan. 15 for talks with President Bill Clinton. Their meeting covered ways of boosting bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues. The Gulf state is the principal port for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Kuwait Passes Copyright Law:
Kuwait’s National Assembly (parliament) passed a new copyright law Dec. 15, in a first step to combat intellectual piracy. Before passing the law banning the sale of illegal copies of films, music and computer software, Kuwait faced punitive sanctions by its main Western trading partners and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Oman to Reactivate Trade Links:
Oman is considering reactivating trade links with Israel, shut down after former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu halted the land-for-peace process in 1996. Omani diplomats, including Mushtaq Abdullah Al-Saleh, chief of International Conferences and Organizations, visited Israel Jan. 10 to discuss reopening Oman’s commercial mission in Tel Aviv. Al-Saleh declined to say when an Omani trade representative might return to Tel Aviv. “You know what happened, why he left. You know what has to happen to bring him back,” he said. “The question of Oman’s trade office representative returning to Tel Aviv depends on the progress of the peace talks.”
Qatar and PA End Banker Dispute:
A Palestinian who holds a Qatari passport, Abu Issa, was accused of stealing $15 million to $20 million during his tenure as chairman of the Palestine International Bank (PIB) in Gaza. On Dec. 20, he took refuge in Qatar’s diplomatic mission in the Gaza Strip and denied the allegation. The Palestinian Authority said it had reached an agreement with Qatar on Jan. 1 to end the dispute by hiring an international auditing company to investigate. Qatar offered guarantees that once a financial report is finished it would ensure the money is paid back. Abu Issa was then allowed to leave Gaza for Qatar.
UAE To Purchase U.S. F-16s:
In a deal between Lockheed Martin Corp. and the UAE that will soon be finalized, the UAE will purchase 80 F-16 fighter jets thought to be worth $7 billion to $8 billion, one of the biggest U.S. arms sales since the end of the Cold War. The Christian Science Monitor reported the jets have a range, radar ability, targeting accuracy, and avionics capability that are superior to the U.S. F-16s flown by American pilots.
Jordan Arrests Possible Terrorists:
Jordanian national Khalil al-Deek, who was suspected of planning attacks in Jordan during millennium celebrations, was arrested in Pakistan and extradited to Jordan on Dec. 16. Jordan arrested another 13 men who had received military training in Afghanistan and were believed to be followers of Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden. The Jordanian arrests were one of the reasons Washington issued a worldwide warning to Americans about a holiday terrorist threat.
Lebanese Prisoners Freed:
Israel and the Israeli-funded South Lebanon Army (SLA) on Jan. 13 freed 27 prisoners, including two Hezbollah militiamen, Kassem Kamas and Ismail al-Zein, held in Israel, in what appeared to be a deal linked to news of Israeli airman Ron Arad, missing since he was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Awaiting the arrival of her brother captured during an attack on Israeli occupation forces in 1987, Kamas’ sister Lamia said, “I can’t wait to hug my brother. I was seven when Israel took him, so we never got to know each other,’’ she said. “Israel stole his liberty and youth like many other Lebanese.’’ A large crowd greeted the prisoners with tears and hugs. A woman fainted as she threw herself on Mustapha Arabieh, her brother who spent nine years in prison without trial. The South Lebanon Army, an Israeli-run militia in Lebanon, still is holding more than 125 detainees without trial in the Khiam prison inside Israel’s Lebanese “security zone.”
Russian Embassy in Lebanon Hit:
Assailants fired four rocket-propelled grenades at the Russian Embassy in Beirut Jan. 3 to protest Russia’s war against Muslim rebels in Chechnya, hitting the building, police said. The compound is located in the busy Corniche al-Mazraa area of Muslim West Beirut. A Palestinian killed at the scene had a statement in his pocket saying he wanted to be “a martyr for Grozny,” the Saudi Gazette of Jeddah reported. One policeman was killed and seven wounded in the hour-long shootout.
Israeli Shells Wound 15 Children:
Mortars from a post jointly manned by the Israeli army and the SLA militia hit a Lebanese school on Dec. 16, wounding 15 children aged nine to 15 in the southern Lebanon village of Arab Salim. Renewed violence in southern Lebanon, the last active Arab-Israeli war front, occurred as Syrian and Israeli negotiators prepared for peace talks in Shepherdstown, West Virgina. Lebanon will demand $8 billion in damages from Israel for its 21-year occupation of Lebanon, the Saudi Gazette reported on Dec. 14, $3.3 billion for damage to infrastructure and $4.7 billion for reparations to civilian victims.
World Bank Funds Syrian Company:
The International Finance Corporation announced on Dec. 17 it was making a $1 million investment in a Syrian irrigation technology company, the first funding to that country by the World Bank in 13 years. The Syrian government agreed in 1997 to repay its arrears to the World Bank, opening the way for World Bank Group activities to resume. Syria is experiencing its worst drought since the 1950s.
Iran Students Attacked After Talk:
Vigilantes injured several students as they left a rare public lecture by a world-renowned Islamic thinker who has questioned religious rule by hard-line clerics, Iranian newspapers reported Jan.15. The lecturer, Abdolkarim Soroush of Tehran University, escaped unhurt in the attack in the northeastern city of Mashhad, but the vigilantes smashed the windshield of his car as he drove away.
Iran Urges UK Business:
Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Britain Jan. 10 with an invitation for British firms to step up investment in the oil-rich Islamic republic. The first Iranian minister to visit Britain for more than two decades urged British businessmen to exploit the warming of political ties between London and Tehran. Kharrazi said Iran now offers more attractive terms for foreign companies to pursue direct investment or partnerships with Iranian firms and has set up free-trade zones offering tax exemptions and cheap energy and manpower. The two countries had agreed to strengthen cooperation, including combating drug trafficking and assisting Iran’s efforts to host two million refugees from conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kharrazi’s visit was marked by protests from Jewish groups demonstrating in support of 13 Jews charged in Iran with spying for Israel and also by protesting Iranian opponents of the clerical government.
Iraq Rejects U.N. Resolution:
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Dec. 17 to suspend sanctions against Iraq in connection with resumption of U.N. weapons inspections. France, along with China, Russia and Malaysia, abstained in the voting, and criticized the fact that the text did not spell out exactly what disarmament measures Iraq had to meet before sanctions were lifted. Iraq rejected the U.N. resolution on Dec. 18, declaring it will not accept any decision that does not lift the embargo without any restrictions or conditions. State Department spokesman James Foley said that under international law Iraq must comply with the resolution.
Israeli President Accepted Funds:
President Ezer Weizman is under investigation for accepting large sums of money from a French millionaire. An investigative reporter said Weizman accepted more than $430,000 from French textile magnate Edouard Sarousi from 1988 to 1993 while Weizman was a parliament member and cabinet minister, and that he continued to draw from the funds after he was sworn in as president in 1993. The popular president is a ceremonial figure but wields tremendous influence in business, political and social circles, and may have sought favors for Sarousi in return for gifts.
U.S. Senators Enjoy Israel Tour:
On a Jan.13 visit to Israel, a delegation from the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee dismissed as premature estimates that an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights would cost the U.S. anywhere from $10 billion to $30 billion, dwarfing the entire world-wide annual U.S. foreign aid budget of $13 billion. The two-day itinerary of Senators Ted Stevens (D-AK), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Thad Cochran (R-MI), and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) included a helicopter tour of the Golan Heights and a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Chiding the Israeli media for speculating that an Israeli peace agreement could cost the U.S. more than $65 billion, committee chairman Stevens warned that such discussion could scare off U.S. taxpayers. Even before any such special payments, Israel’s annual $3 billion in foreign aid makes it the largest U.S. aid recipient in the world. Giving money to Syria for its role in signing a treaty with Israel would be considerably more difficult, the senators said, because it is on the U.S. list of countries sponsoring terrorism. The senators said other countries, including the Arab states of the Gulf, Japan and European countries would have to help, too.
Israel’s El Al Buys British:
State-run El Al Israel Airlines confirmed on Jan. 7 a decision to place a $75 million order for Rolls Royce engines to power three Boeing 777s, despite U.S. pressure to buy American. “There are no political implications here,” airline spokesman Nachman Klieman said. “El Al made the decision to buy Rolls Royce based on the fact that it is the best engine from the point of view of reliability and efficiency.” The airline has come under fire from the U.S. administration for buying European-made equipment when Israel receives more than $3 billion in U.S. foreign aid annually. In December, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had urged El Al to buy General Electric or Pratt and Whitney engines.
Shas Names Price for Support:
A Shas party spokesman said his Orthodox party will withhold support for any future peace agreement Prime Minister Ehud Barak concludes with Syria until up to $250 million has been transferred into party institutions, including what New York’s Jewish weekly newspaper Forward described on Dec. 24, 1999 as its “corrupt and bankrupt school system.”
Rabbis Ban Internet:
Several Orthodox groups in Israel recently banned their followers from using the Internet, the Washington Jewish Week reported Jan. 13, citing access to pornography as the reason for the ban.
Israeli Group Claims Syrian Land:
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) said on Jan. 6 it owns large tracts of land in Syria bought before the establishment of Israel. According to the JNF, the land was purchased by Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but was left unsettled because of malarial mosquitoes. It had passed down to the fund after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Israeli historical geographer Ran Ahronson also said French-Jewish philanthropist Baron Edmond de Rothschild bought in 1892 a large area of land on the southeastern side of the Golan Heights in an area still under Syrian control. Israel’s Arutz Sheva News Service reported the JNF would like to trade its Syrian properties for land in the Golan.The JNF said it will decide how best to press its claim when peace talks are renewed between Israel and Syria.
Israel Aproves New Golan Homes:
Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office said on Dec. 24 it had given the green light to build 70 more housing units on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights despite imminent peace talks with Syria, which demands return of all Syrian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Barak’s spokesperson said “the policy is that so long as there is no concrete deal, there’s a tendency to confirm plans [for new housing construction].”
Birthright Israel Sponsors Trip:
More than 9,500 Jewish college students applied for 3,000 places on the “Israel 2000” program, a free, 10-day trip to Israel sponsored by Birthright Israel. Charles Bronfman, CEO of Seagram, and Michael Steinhardt brought the idea to life by each putting up $9 million, and local American Jewish federations and the Israel government each will contribute $70 million over the next five years. Birthright Israel is providing free trips to 6,000 Jewish students to give them a personal connection to Israel and to “counter assimilation,” the Jerusalem Post reported. Hillel, the Jewish organization located on most U.S. college campuses, chose the participants through interviews and lotteries. Birthright Israel hopes to extend the offer to any student older than 14 and to raise $300 million to endow the 5-year program.
Israel Destroys Graveside Shrine to Hebron Mass Murderer:
Israeli forces clashed with Jewish settlers on Dec. 29 when the army, following an Israeli Supreme Court ruling, tore down a shrine to U.S.-born mass killer Baruch Goldstein, who shot dead 29 Palestinians at prayer in the West Bank town of Hebron in 1994. The shrine had included an altar with candles, a cupboard with holy books, a bench and water taps for ceremonial washing of hands. Witnesses said hundreds of militant Jewish settlers screamed and scuffled with about 200 police and soldiers dismantling the shrine surrounding Goldstein’s grave in the Hebron-area Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. Most of Hebron came under Palestinian self-rule in 1997, but Israel kept control of the center of the city, where soldiers and police guard about 450 radical Jewish settlers living among thousands of Palestinians.
Canada Tries to Extradite Israeli:
Canadian police issued an arrest warrant Dec. 17 for an Israeli soldier suspected of beating to death a teenager in a Toronto park in November. Police are seeking to extradite 19-year-old Daniel Weiz from Israel in connection with the murder of Matty Baranovsky, 15, a Russian Jew who died after being punched and kicked in the head by a group of men, apparently in a dispute over a cigarette. Weiz was on leave from the Israeli army and visiting his father in Toronto at the time of the murder.
Israel Soldiers Hit School Bus:
Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets at a Palestinian school bus on Dec. 22 outside Hebron and wounded a boy being driven to school, the army said. The troops were firing at Palestinian youths in the area who were stoning Israeli cars. The injured schoolboy, 15-year-old Fadhi Jawabrah, said soldiers suddenly began shooting at the bus as it was driving by and a bullet smashed through a window and hit him in the mouth, knocking out two teeth. Meanwhile, the Arab News reported Dec. 23 that an Israeli officer in charge of army dogs unleashed a storm of protests in Israel after he reportedly said the animals react to the smell of Arabs and Orthodox Jews.
Delayed West Bank Hand-Overs:
Israel handed over 5 percent more of the West Bank to Palestinian rule on Jan. 5 and 6 with a long-delayed transfer of some 14 villages around the West Bank city of Ramallah and areas near the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus. The officers used boulders painted yellow and white to mark the separation between the villages under Palestinian rule and the adjacent areas still under Israeli control.
“What happened today is really good, but if you look at the areas, they are like the skin of a tiger. It would be great if the land was contiguous,” villager Ahmed Kareem said. Israel’s scheduled Jan. 20 hand-over of a further 6.1 percent, which would have given Palestine full or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank, captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, has also been postponed. The Oslo accords specified that Israel would withdraw from 40 percent of the occupied territories before final status talks with the Palestinians could begin. Forty percent of the occupied territories totals only 8.8 percent of the Mandate of Palestine, 47 percent of which was awarded to the Palestinian state by the U.N. Partition Resolution of November 1947, which remains valid.
PA Appoints Financial Watchdog:
The Palestinian Authority said on Jan. 12 that it had set up a new body to oversee financial management and bring greater transparency to its affairs. The establishment of the “Higher Development Council” by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was welcomed by diplomats from countries whose governments and institutions provide substantial sums in aid to Palestinian self-rule areas. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian minister of planning and international cooperation and a member of the new body, said the move was a “major step forward toward achieving a real economic policy.” Arafat’s self-rule administration has been subject to criticism for mismanagement and for alleged corruption.
Holy Land Tourists Stay Away:
Large numbers of tourists worried by a U.S. warning for Americans abroad to “avoid large crowds and gatherings’’ in case of terrorism, and also by possible Y2K computer problems, canceled bookings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Holy Land, hoteliers said the week before Christmas. Bethlehem residents said the Christmas crowd of about 15,000 was larger than last year’s, but the number fell far below the 60,000 visitors municipal officials had hoped for. At the American Colony Hotel in Arab East Jerusalem, a favorite spot for celebrities, journalists and diplomats, almost one in seven potential guests canceled reservations. Jonathan Harpaz, head of Jerusalem’s Hoteliers Association, said the impact of cancellations on Israeli-run West Jerusalem hotels was not as serious as in East Jerusalem. “Most of our tourists are patriotic Jews and supportive [fundamentalist] Christians, so we are not worried about too much harm,” he said.
Golan Druze Express Solidarity:
In Majdal Shams, one of four Arab Druze villages not destroyed under Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, residents staged a protest and civil strike this week to express solidarity with Syria. Many Golan Druze, members of an Islamic offshoot sect whose followers span the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel, proudly display posters of Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and the Syrian flag on the walls of their homes.
Algeria Rebels Ambush Peace Talks:
Rebels opposed to amnesty talks with the Algerian government shot dead Aoudjid Bourguiba, a senior guerrilla negotiator discussing terms of surrender for guerrilla leader Hassan Hattab, halting peace talks, El Watan newspaper said on Jan. 15. Only Hattab’s Da’wa wal Jihad (Appeal and Struggle) group and another hardline faction, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), have failed to take up an amnesty offer, leaving them to face an all-out army assault promised by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika against those who miss the amnesty deadline.
Religious Violence Spreads in Egypt:
Egyptian security forces quelled three days of sectaran rioting and looting that left at least 20 dead, 44 injured, and torched buildings and vehicles in El-Kusheh, government officials said Jan. 3. Security forces sealed off three villages roughly 275 miles south of Cairo. Witnesses in Dar el-Salam said protesters smashed and burned scores of Christian-owned shops and offices. They said police opened fire to disperse the protesters, some of whom fired back, and that more forces were called to restore order. Christian and Muslim leaders, the regional governor, and the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights worked to restore calm to the area.Coptic Christians are the largest religious minority in mainly Muslim Egypt, making up 10 percent of the population of 64 million. El-Kusheh is 75 percent Coptic.
Levy Visits Morocco:
Moroccan-born Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy visited Morocco from Jan. 12-15 at the invitation of King Mohammed, who has reigned since the death of his father, King Hassan, last July. The king’s invitation to Levy was the first to a high-ranking Israeli official since the 1993 Oslo accords. Morocco and Israel established low-level diplomatic ties in 1994, and Moroccan-born Israeli nationals have a long-standing invitation to visit relatives remaining in Morocco, but the North African state has declined to upgrade relations pending real progress on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks of the Middle East peace process. The Jewish community in Morocco was estimated at 275,000 before the North African kingdom gained independence in 1956. That number dwindled over the years as most emigrated to Israel, France, Canada and the United States. Fewer than 8,000 Jews remain among Morocco’s population of 29 million. Levy is seeking upgraded diplomatic ties and direct flights for Israel’s El Al airline.
Tunisian Bank Lent $42.74 Million:
The Tunisian Solidarity Bank (TSB), which provides preferential interest rates for loans for small businesses, approved loans totaling $42.74 million in 1999, Finance Minister Taoufik Baccar said on Jan. 10. The state-controlled bank granted 14,786 loans between the March 1998 date when it started operations, and the end of 1999. Loans helped create 21,332 jobs, including 2,235 for university graduates. TSB was launched in 1997 by Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to provide loans for low-income people.
Istanbul Opens Airport Terminal:
Turkey opened a new international airport terminal Jan. 3 in Istanbul, its commercial capital and biggest city, to meet rising commercial and tourist traffic. The new terminal, built at a cost of $306 million and able to handle 14 million passengers a year, was opened eight months ahead of schedule as part of the city’s Ataturk Airport complex. The building was designed to withstand earthquakes measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.
EU Welcomes Turkey as Candidate:
The European Union ended its last summit of the century on Dec. 11 by welcoming Turkey as its first Muslim candidate. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit joined leaders of 12 other applicant nations at a landmark meeting with the 15 current members, lining up for a photo. Turkish police detained more than 150 demonstrators on Dec. 12 as they demanded improved human rights after the EU decision. Several thousand people, largely pious Muslims, linked hands to form a peaceful “human chain” across Istanbul. Riot police intervened on grounds that the provincial governor had refused permission for the protest.
Protests at Turkish Jails:
One person was killed and 11 injured in protests in two Turkish jails on Jan. 7 by radical inmates who briefly held 18 warders and a lawyer hostage. Paramilitary gendarmerie police stormed cells in which hunger-striking prisoners, protesting against jail transfer policies aimed at breaking up political factions among the inmates, had barricaded themselves.
New Cyprus Talks Scheduled:
A second round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders on the division of the Mediterranean island will start in Geneva on Jan. 27 and continue until Feb. 6. A first round of United Nations-sponsored “proximity talks’’ in New York among Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ended in December. Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded the island 25 years ago.
Gifts Collected for Bosnian Children:
Soldiers from the U.S. and other NATO nations bought holiday gifts for orphans and refugee children whose names were on Christmas “angel trees” in military bases in northern Bosnia. Volunteers then distributed the gifts to orphanages and refugee camps. American troops, stationed in northern Bosnia since December 1995 as part of NATO-led peacekeeping forces, introduced the idea of a non-sectarian “angel tree’’ to this religiously mixed country in 1999.
Kosovo Clerics Preach Remembrance:
Kosovo’s leading Muslim clerics urged thousands of ethnic Albanians celebrating the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan to remember those who gave their lives fighting for the province’s independence and to forgive past wrongs. In an address, Rexhep Boja, the head of Kosovo’s Islamic community, told ethnic Albanians to offer forgiveness for past injustices. “We have to reconcile, because reconciliation gives us the strength to achieve a fully independent Kosovo,’’ he said.
India Software Exports Could Reach $100 Billion:
India’s software exports could grow exponentially to more than $100 billion in the next few years from the current annual $4 billion, a co-founder of U.S. computer group Sun Microsystems predicted on Jan. 9. Indian-born Vinod Khosla is a general partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley, California-based venture capital fund. He is a director on the board of Internet service provider Concentric Network, Internet equipment provider Juniper Networks and QWEST Communications, a broadband Internet communications firm.
Night Viewing at Taj Mahal Still Banned:
Fifteen years after the Indian government closed the Taj Mahal at night for fear of terrorist attacks, the government in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where the monument is located, decided to once again allow visitors access to the site after 7 p.m. However, India’s Supreme Court on Dec. 17 overruled the government decision to reopen. The gates to the monument, which is considered particularly beautiful by moonlight, have been closed at night since 1984, when Sikh militants threatened to blow it up. The Sikh insurrection was crushed in 1993. In 1999 nearly 2.2 million tourists visited the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mogul emperor, in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess who died while giving birth to their 14th child.
Pakistan Rejects Hijacking Charge:
Pakistan rejected on Jan. 16 the latest Indian accusation of involvement in the December hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane as baseless. The nuclear rivals have traded highly charged accusations since the hijacking ended on Dec. 31, with India saying Pakistan masterminded the drama, and Islamabad saying there was no proof of that and charging that New Delhi was using the incident, in which one Indian passenger was killed and 155 people were held hostage for eight days, to try to isolate Pakistan.