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News Briefs I

Los Angeles Times

Scientists at the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., are joining the attempt to solve the five-week-old mystery of what caused the crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island.

National Transportation Safety Board ViceChairman Robert Francis said Thursday that shattered components of the Boeing 747's belly fuel tank system are being flown to the space agency facility in the hope that "the same folks who worked on the Challenger" spacecraft crash investigation can shed some light on the Flight 800 disaster.

Francis declined to speculate on what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's examination of fuel pumps, probes that monitor the amount of fuel and other belly-tank debris recovered from the ocean bottom might reveal.

But he has said repeatedly that there is strong evidence of a fiery explosion in the tank, which underlies a portion of the passenger cabin directly ahead of the wings. That evidence includes bits of charred, twisted metal from the fuel tank area.

The tank was nearly empty when the jetliner took off from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, but it still contained about 100 gallons of high-grade kerosene - enough jet fuel to generate volatile fumes that could have detonated in an explosive burst of flame.

The question is: What might have ignited those fumes?

Most investigators still favor the possibility that it was a small but powerful bomb, perhaps one placed under a passenger seat directly above the tank. A bomb placed beneath a seat exploded on an Avianca Colombian jetliner in 1989, triggering a blast in the belly fuel tank that felled the Boeing 727.

Future of Israel, Arab Peace Process Unknown

Los Angeles Times

Less than three months into Benjamin Netanyahu's term as Israel's prime minister, Israelis and Arabs alike say they fear that the deadlocked Middle East peace process may collapse.

After Israel and Syria traded angry accusations this week, with each side blaming each other for heightened tensions, Israeli politicians and columnists, for the first time in years, are speaking openly about the renewed possibility of war with Syria.

At the same time, the chill between Netanyahu's government and the Palestinians grew deeper Thursday after a diplomatic tiff over a meeting between former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The crisis was resolved in hours but prominent Palestinians said it was just the latest frustration in Palestinian efforts to deal with Netanyahu's government.

"What we are feeling now is fear, because this government's intention is not a peaceful one," said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Cabinet minister recently appointed to lead peace talks with Israel. "We feel that peace is slipping through our fingers like sand."

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have downplayed tensions, issuing assurances that Israel wants peace with its neighbors. Israel asked the United States to tell Syria that the Israelis are committed to peace and hope to resume talks without preconditions.

American Neo-Nazi Jailed For Four Years in Germany

The Washington Post

Gary Rex Lauck, an American neo-Nazi who proclaims to admire Adolf Hitler, was sentenced to four years in jail Thursday on conviction of inciting racial hatred and disseminating illegal propaganda in Germany.

Lauck, from Lincoln, Neb., broke a self-imposed silence that he had maintained throughout the four-month trial in Hamburg, shouting in slightly American-accented German as security guards led him away: "Neither the Communists nor the Nazis would ever have dared kidnap an American citizen. The fight will go on."

The outburst reflected his insistence that he was wrongly arrested in Denmark March 1995 and extradited to Hamburg last August to face charges here that would not exist in the United States under U.S. freedom of speech laws. His lawyer, Hans-Otto Sieg, immediately said he will appeal the sentence on grounds that the so-called Farm Belt Fuehrer's Nebraska-based mail order exports are legal in the United States despite Germany's draconian laws punishing neo-Nazi propaganda and paraphernalia.