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News Briefs I

Israel Celebrates Its First 50 Years of Statehood

The Washington Post

With a nod to its Biblical charter, Israel marked 50 years of modern statehood Thursday by celebrating its strength and vowing an eternal hold on Jerusalem. The anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state was honored with swooping jets, the smoke wafting from thousands of barbecues, and the melancholy notes of the Hatikvah national anthem.

"We have sewn back the heart of the Jewish people. We have united this city, never to be divided again," declared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Hollywood-style entertainment gala produced for the anniversary.

Quoting from Hatikvah, which means "the hope," Netanyahu said "hope gave us the immense strength we needed to rise from the ashes and start again. We overcame obstacles that no other nation has experienced."

U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the only international leader to come to the Israeli ceremonies, responded with halting phrases of Hebrew and equally far-reaching vows.

"American ties with Israel are eternal," he said. "President Clinton and I are proud, as are all Americans, that the United States was the first to recognize the state of Israel 11 minutes after you proclaimed your independence."

Birth Rates Among Teenagers Drop

The Washington Post

The percentage of teenagers having babies declined for the sixth year in a row, falling in every state and the District of Columbia, and among every major racial and ethnic group for the first time, the federal government reported Thursday.

Although nearly a half million American teenagers still give birth every year, the overall rate has fallen 12 percent since 1991. The birth rate for Afro-American teenagers is down 21 percent since the beginning of the decade to the lowest level ever reported.

The rate for Hispanics, the nation's fastest growing minority group, remains the highest, but the new statistics show it falling for the first time, by 4.8 percent between 1995 and 1996.

"These are not isolated statistics from certain parts of the country," said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "In every state, teen pregnancy rates are starting to come down because we have sent a consistent message to young people that having sexual activity before they are ready to take on permanent responsibilities is unacceptable."

Researchers and others who study teen pregnancy attributed the decline to a combination of factors, but said they suspect the chief reason is that teenagers are having less sex and using more contraceptives.

IRA Balks at Peace Deal Requirement of Giving Up Weapons

The Washington Post

The terrorist Irish Republican Army offered a vaguely-worded endorsement of the Northern Ireland peace deal Thursday, but threw a wrench in the works by insisting it will not give up its arsenal of weapons, as the agreement requires.

The IRA, one of Northern Ireland's most murderous sectarian street armies, called on its members to follow "the advice of their political leaders" in the vote on approving the peace agreement. Since the IRA's political wing is expected to back the deal, that amounts to an endorsement.

By refusing, though, to follow the requirement for disarmament, the IRA seemed to suggest that it will pick and choose among the terms of the deal. That sparked fear and anger among people on the other side of the bitter divide in the British province.

Over the past three weeks, there has been considerable political momentum toward approval of the deal.