2 Palestinians die in protests blaming Israel for slayings of 3 PLO officials

January 16, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- The slayings of three Palestine Liberation Organization officials Monday in Tunisia sparked demonstrations yesterday that left two Palestinians dead and worsened Israel's jittery mood the night before the United Nations' deadline.

Despite widespread curfews in the occupied territories, protests erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip blaming Israel for the deaths of the PLO officials, even though the PLO was blaming a rival Palestinian faction.

Israeli officials scoffed at the charge.

"We had nothing to do with it," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens said in a television interview.

Israeli officials are particularly concerned that an outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf region might be echoed by an eruption in the occupied territories, where Palestinian sentiment is with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Israeli army has beefed up security in the territories and imposed frequent curfews requiring citizens to stay in their homes. But confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinians and armed soldiers have increased, and there have been almost daily deaths among the demonstrators.

Yesterday's clashes killed a 19-year-old man in Gaza City and a 22-year-old man in the West Bank, according to Israeli army officials. Army and state radio reports put the number wounded at between 40 and 65. Officials were checking reports of a third death.

Crowds of demonstrators in Gaza and the West Bank burned tires, threw stones and chanted for revenge for the killings in Tunis of PLO leader Abu Iyad and two other PLO officials, according to reports.

A bodyguard of one of the slain officials was arrested at the villa where the killings occurred. A statement by Fatah, the main branch of the PLO, blamed the slayings on a rival faction headed by Abu Nidal.

The spokesman said the army had girded for worse violence in the occupied territories. "There was a lot of potential for more," he said.

There was much girding going on in Israel yesterday. Israelis have overrun stores looking for emergency supplies such as batteries, food and water.

Jerusalem papers trumpeted predictions that Iraq would launch a pre-emptory attack against Israel before the U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait, which occurs here at 7 a.m. local time today. There were last-minute civil defense instructions.

Lines grew for gas masks, and distribution was expanded recently to many rural areas. The Israel High Court of Justice ordered the army Monday to distribute gas masks to Arabs in the occupied areas. The army's refusal to do so was "blatant discrimination" and a "scandal," the court said. Foreign journalists were issued gas masks yesterday.

The army made plans to distribute the 173,000 masks that it had on hand, enough for about one-tenth of the territories' population.

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