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Extradition Case Opens Rift In U.S.-Israeli Diplomatic Ties

By Rebecca Trounson and Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times

In a case that has sparked outrage in the United States and consternation in Israel, a teen-age suspect in a grisly Maryland slaying has become the object of a heated extradition battle between the two countries.

Samuel Sheinbein, 17, and another teen-ager are charged in the death of Alfredo Tello Jr., a 19-year-old whose body was found dismembered and charred near Sheinbein's home in suburban Maryland last month. Sheinbein fled to Israel - it is unclear how - and was arrested.

But Israeli authorities Thursday said they still are considering whether to comply with a U.S. request that the high school senior be sent back to Maryland to stand trial. Sheinbein, whose father was born in Israel, may be eligible for Israeli citizenship, which could bar his extradition, officials said: Israel, like many countries, claims the right to try its own citizens for crimes wherever they are committed.

For now, the dispute has opened a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations just as American officials have finally succeeded in winning agreement for a renewal of long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. With committee-level negotiations scheduled to resume here Monday, "this is not what we need right now," a U.S. official said.

In Washington, the case has outraged several influential lawmakers. Rep. Robert Livingston, R-La., a former prosecutor who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, threatened this week to "revisit" the $3 billion annual aid package to Israel if the case is not resolved. And U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, have left little doubt that the United States would prefer Sheinbein to stand trial at home.

"I understand the problem and I know the outrage felt when a crime of this significance has been committed," Albright said Wednesday in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. She said she was working with the Justice Department in hopes that "we'll be able to sort this out soon."