BRUSSELS (Jan. 24)
The Belgian government has promised economic aid to Israel after being reproached by Jews for its aloof stance in the wake of the Iraqi missile attacks on Israel.
Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, who made the commitment at a meeting with Belgian Jewish leaders, said he would favorably consider a Jewish request that Belgium participate in an emergency fund to help Israel absorb the influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union and other countries.
Lazard Perez, head of the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations, called the meeting “a good one, better than expected.”
He said the issue of terrorist threats against the Jewish community here was raised with the prime minister.
The Jewish community has in fact set up a “crisis committee” to coordinate security efforts, among other things.
The committee includes representatives of all political and religious Jewish institutions in Brussels and Antwerp. It organized a rally in support of Israel at the Israeli Embassy here.
The Jewish group also urged the government to be “cautious” in the deliveries of “sensitive goods” to foreign countries, especially Libya and Iran. The government recently gave the green light for an economic accord with Libya.
The Coordinating Committee, the umbrella organization of Belgian Jewish institutions, demanded the meeting with Martens because Belgium, alone among the 12 member states of the European Community, failed to send an official message of sympathy to Israel after the first SCUD missile attack on Jan. 18.
PRAISING THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
In recent days, Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens has made several statements condemning the Iraqi attack on civilians and praising the Israeli government for refusing to be drawn into reprisal attacks. He called Israel’s restraint “an act of courage.”
Eyskens said he met with Israeli Ambassador Avi Primor the day after the first missile attack to express solidarity with Israel and its people.
Local Jews have been particularly unhappy with Belgium’s Middle East policy because of the added irritant of its recent prisoner-for-hostages exchange with the Abu Nidal terrorist gang.
Walid Khaled, a high-ranking member of the Abu Nidal group, was in Belgium last week on the eve of the war, quietly walking the streets of Brussels despite a security alert linked to the Persian Gulf situation.
A political storm was generated over the Foreign Ministry’s granting of a visa to Khaled, who apparently negotiated the recent exchange of another Abu Nidal member, a prisoner who killed a Jewish boy, for four Belgians kidnapped in November 1987.
The Foreign Ministry announced Monday that Jan Hollants van Loocke, the ministry’s political director, and Alex Reyn, chief of the minister’s Cabinet, had resigned. Khaled apparently came to Belgium to negotiate the final stages of the prisoner-hostage exchange with van Loocke.
The prime minister has called the Foreign Ministry’s granting of a visa to Khaled a “grave error of judgment.”