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Ministry sanctioned trip to site of massacre

ISRAEL. Headteacher claims government approved outing to trouble spot. Sue Surkes reports.

In the wake of last week's murder of seven Israeli schoolgirls by one apparently disturbed Jordanian soldier, in the Jordanian-controlled enclave of Naharayim, south of the Sea of Galilee, it is being claimed that the Israeli education ministry was one of several signatories to material recommending school outings to the site.

According to the respected daily newspaper Ha'aretz, the promotional material appeared last October advertising trips relevant to this year's theme in schools - 100 years of Zionism. Details about the Naharayim outing, which accompanied the main advertisement, promised "an informal meeting with the Jordanian soldiers and visitors at the site".

The revelation appears to contradict comments by the deputy education minister Moshe Peled, who said after the slaying that the ministry had expressly forbidden school trips to Naharayim.

The site, which is at the junction of the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers, was returned to Jordanian sovereignty as part of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace accords, and leased to Israel for a renewable 25 years. Until the shootings, it was known as the "Peace Island", and was popular with Israeli and Palestinian day-trippers.

The head of the AMIT Fuerst School in Beit Shemesh, south-west of Jerusalem, where the teenagers were students, said the trip had received the necessary clearance.

Tali Tal, the co-ordinator of trips at an elementary school in Kfar Vradim, in northern Israel, is meanwhile quoted in Ha'aretz as saying some of her pupils visited Naharayim earlier this month on the assumption that such a trip was permitted.

Ms Tal said the permit the school received from the relevant local office, run by the education ministry and a nature protection society, only prohibited visits to the town of Naharayim, which in any case was not on the school's itinerary.

"After the attack, everyone is wiser, and the heads of the education ministry look like they're trying to cover their backs," she told the newspaper.

The education minister Zevulun Hammer is to launch an external committee of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the AMIT Fuerst school's visit to Naharayim.

A ministry spokesperson told The TES that clearance to visit the site was not logical; the Israeli-Jordanian peace accords do not allow for the level of armed protection the ministry requires on school trips.

The ministry is still trying to locate the advertisement cited in Ha'aretz, the spokesperson added.

On Sunday, Jordan's King Hussein paid an extraordinary visit to Israel to console the bereaved families in their homes.

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