Brigham Young University is canceling winter semester at its Jerusalem Center in Israel because of the possibility of war breaking out in the Persian Gulf sometime after the first of the year.

BYU spokesman Paul C. Richards said university officials decided Wednesday to cancel the winter program, the first such decision in the 25-year history of the center. A skeleton-crew staff will maintain the center during its closure."It has been safe (at the center), and we feel it will be safe other than we don't know how the international situation is going to develop in the next month," Richards said.

Jan. 15, the deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, is the day students were scheduled to fly to Israel, according to Robert Taylor, assistant to BYU President Rex Lee for the Jerusalem Center.

"We hoped there would be a settlement in early December that would give a clearer picture," Taylor said. "It is still unlikely things will be settled by Jan. 15."

While the program has never been canceled before, 30 or 40 students left the center temporarily during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, he said. In August when Iraq invaded Kuwait, students heading for the center were diverted to Greece for several weeks. They then continued on to the center and were able to complete their study program; the main group of students and faculty will return to Utah on Sunday, Taylor said.

About 140 students signed up to attend the winter semester at the Jerusalem Center. They are being notified and offered the option of taking classes winter semester at the university's Provo campus.

Students returning from the center have not felt threatened or endangered during their visit to Israel, Taylor said.

"I was there three or four weeks ago," Taylor said. "While you feel tension in the air, you really don't feel threatened. The kinds of things happening in Israel are localized and it is easy to stay out of the way of that kind of trouble."

Students unable to attend winter semester in Israel also will be given the opportunity to sign up for the center's two-month program that runs from April to June, for another semesterlong program or to have their money refunded, Taylor said.