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TOP ISRAELI COURT UPHOLDS COUPLES OF THE SAME SEX

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The Supreme Court has handed Israel's gay community a major victory in a landmark ruling recognizing same-sex couples.

The 50-page decision forces the national airline El Al to grant the partner of flight attendant Jonathan Danielevitz the same annual free tickets and other benefits given to husbands and wives of heterosexual employees.The case had wound its way up Israel's court system for five years, reaching the Supreme Court after El Al appealed a regional labor court ruling in favor of Danielevitz.

El Al spokesman Nachman Kleiman said the company would "honor and abide by the decision in its entirety." He said there was no precedent for El Al extending the rights to unmarried couples.

No reaction was available from Danielevitz. Press reports say he has lived with his unidentified partner for 15 years.

Gay rights activists said the ruling would have widespread significance in Israel, which remains a relatively conservative society on homosexuality.

"This will affect all walks of life. . . . We will try to apply this decision to other areas," said Ilan Shenfeld, a leading gay rights activist.

Shenfeld said he has been unable to arrange a joint mortgage or dental insurance with his homosexual partner, whom he wed in a legal contract not recognized as marriage by the state.

Shira Dunevich, Danielevitz's lawyer, said most Israeli homosexuals are still in the closet.

"But we know more and more gays are coming out . . . and this will help them hold their heads high," she said.