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Saturday, January 15, 2000


Legislature must deal
with fireworks issue

Bullet The issue: A girl has lost an eye as a result of a fireworks accident.

Bullet Our view: The accident should help spur the Legislature to face the need for effective measures to deal with the fireworks problem.

WITH the opening of the 2000 Legislature approaching, the loss of an eye by a 14-year-old girl as the result of a fireworks accident should increase the pressure on lawmakers to deal with this perennial problem. Sherri-Lynn Kalama's right eye had to be removed in surgery because her vision could not be restored after her injury in a fireworks accident on her birthday Dec. 26.

Even more unfortunate was the fireworks death of Stephen Senas Jr., 25, during the New Year's Eve celebrations, the first such incident since 1995.

This week a Honolulu City Council committee asked the Legislature to act on the fireworks problem. The Council's Policy Committee passed a resolution introduced by Councilman John Henry Felix, asking state lawmakers to do one of three things: allow the counties to enact more stringent fireworks laws; ban fireworks except for cultural and religious occasions; or ban fireworks in counties with more than 200,000 residents -- in effect, Honolulu.

"Now is the time for the state Legislature to do the right thing for the public in the interests of public health and safety," Felix said. "Now is the time for them to act."

Many would agree. The flood of letters to the editor on the subject received by the Star-Bulletin indicates that the outrage sparked by fireworks abuse has never been greater. Our recent opinion poll supports that conclusion.

Governor Cayetano, whose call a year ago for a ban on fireworks failed to achieve action in the Legislature, has reiterated his support.

In terms of the threat to health from air pollution, fireworks-related fires and poor visibility for drivers, last New Year's may have been the worst in Hawaii history.

Yet some legislators still seem unwilling to face up to the need for action because they have large numbers of constituents who defend the use of fireworks at all costs.

It was encouraging to see Honolulu police arrest vendors of illegal fireworks. Now federal agents are investigating the same vendors for possible violation of federal explosives laws, which carry more severe sentences. Successful prosecutions in these cases could serve as a much-needed deterrent to others.

The fireworks problem has reached intolerable proportions, at least in Honolulu if not on the neighbor islands. Isn't it enough that a man died and a girl lost an eye this time? Or that thousands of people with respiratory problems were left gasping for breath? Or that hundreds of homes were endangered by aerial firecrackers?

At a minimum, the Legislature should give the Honolulu City Council the authority to enact effective measures to deal with the problem on Oahu.

Israeli-Syrian talks

Bullet The issue: Little progress has been made in peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Bullet Our view: Despite American arm-twisting, the Golan Heights remains a formidable obstacle to agreement.

IT was no great surprise that scant progress was made in the negotiations between Israel and Syria at Shepherdstown, W.Va. Syrian dictator Hafez Assad has been one of the bitterest enemies of Israel and one of the least susceptible to American overtures to make peace with the Jewish state.

It was an achievement even to get Assad to send an emissary to sit down with the Israelis. Despite all efforts by President Clinton and the State Department to present the situation in the most favorable light, the two governments are far apart. Whether their differences can be reconciled under even the most persistent American arm-twisting is still not clear.

For Israel the question is one of security -- that is, life or death. The Israelis are determined to exact concessions on security questions from the Syrians in return for withdrawing from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Until then the Syrians rained shells on Israeli settlements below from those heights. No Israeli leader could let that -- or worse -- happen again.

In addition to a military withdrawal, there is the question of the 17,000 Israeli settlers living on the heights. Israel wants them to be permitted to remain in their homes even if the area is ceded to Syria. The Syrian position is that all Israelis must leave. It's not clear whether a compromise can be found.

Fayez al-Sayegh, director-general of the official Syrian news agency, accused Israel of blocking tangible progress in the talks. He said the Israelis tried to evade agreement on full withdrawal from the Golan Heights and vowed, "We will not cede even an atom of its soil."

Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that Assad will have to meet him face-to-face if he wants to close a peace deal.

Barak, who has been negotiating with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, said progress can be made at that level, but that "there are some issues we cannot decide on without President Clinton and myself sitting opposite President Assad."

However, Assad has resisted all efforts to bring him together with Israeli leaders and may never agree to meet with Barak. He is no Anwar Sadat, who flew to Israel and embraced Menachem Begin to launch the Middle East peace process.

The negotiations resume next week in Shepherdstown, which is somewhat of a hopeful sign. But unless a breakthrough can be achieved, Clinton may leave office without the diplomatic triumph he sorely wants.

Assad is reported in poor health and may not remain in power much longer. Israel might fare better by waiting until he passes from the scene and attempting to deal with his successor.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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