Israel orders 20 students out of Jericho building

January 10, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Staff Writer

TABA, Egypt -- Israeli authorities yesterday ordered the evacuation of about 20 Jewish students from a building in Jericho as negotiators prepared to resume talks here today on Israeli withdrawal from Jericho and the Gaza Strip.

The yeshiva students were ordered out of a house built over an ancient synagogue that is likely to be included in the area turned over to Palestinians. Authorities said that the building was not connected to water or electricity and that the students could not stay.

Religious sites will be the focus of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators as they settle in today for lengthy talks over the delayed start of Palestinian autonomy.

The 20 young men proclaimed their yeshiva -- a religious school -- in an old house on the edge of the town of Jericho. The house sits atop an ancient mosaic believed to have been on the floor of a synagogue.

Israeli authorities said the students must leave because the house is uninhabitable, and requires repairs and renovations. Ultra-orthodox Jews have frequently proclaimed the establishment of yeshivas in Arab areas as a tactic to lay a Jewish claim to the land.

Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told reporters he hoped to draw the boundaries of Palestinian control in Jericho around Christian and Muslim religious sites in the vicinity, and to include other strategic points.

"There is some substantial disagreement, particularly on Jericho," he said.

Israel was supposed to begin its withdrawal from the West Bank town and from the Gaza Strip on Dec. 13. The withdrawal was delayed by disputes that include the size of the Jericho area to be returned to Palestinians and the issue of control of border crossings.

Mr. Shaath indicated the Palestinians have conceded on the area to be returned -- apparently about 55 square kilometers -- but will still argue about where the boundaries are drawn.

"We've stopped counting mileage," he said. But he said Palestinians want to include in the autonomy areas access to the Dead Sea, all pockets of population, the site on the Jordan River where Jesus is said to have been baptized, the monastery on the Mount of Temptation beside Jericho, and Nabi Musa, one of several sites claimed as the burial place of Moses.

Israel has vowed to keep the Palestinians away from the Jordan River because it serves as a border with Jordan, and Israel has sought to restrict the size of the Jericho area to be turned over to Palestinians.

Both sides were expecting lengthy sessions at this Red Sea resort just over the border from Israel's Eilat. Mr. Shaath predicted two to three weeks; reports from Jerusalem predicted even more time.

"I will be very happy to conclude within two to three weeks," said Israeli Knesset member Yossi Sarid, who has attended the negotiations. "But based on my knowledge of the agenda and the problems . . . I believe that 1 1/2 to two months is a more reasonable estimate.

Israel apparently is determined not to repeat last week's dispute over what was agreed at previous talks in Cairo and will insist that each point will be in writing and signed.

The order to evacuate the Jewish students in Jericho is the first such relocation resulting from the accord signed Sept. 13 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Israel promised to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.

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