Israeli rocket attack underscores Palestinian fears

March 25, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Israel poured more than 100 rockets into a house here this week in a spectacular display of firepower that illuminated Palestinian demands for protection and sent them into the streets in angry protest yesterday.

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo appeared to come closer to an agreement on the deployment of a lightly armed international force in Hebron, Israeli troops clashed yesterday with Arabs in the city, which has been under curfew for a month since a Jewish settler massacred 30 Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Hospitals reported that five people were wounded, three of them in clashes between onlookers and Israeli troops removing bodies from the building in Hebron. Troops destroyed the house Tuesday and Wednesday in an assault aimed at three suspected Palestinian supporters of the radical Hamas movement.

About three dozen Palestinians were hospitalized from clashes throughout the occupied territories.

The confrontations occurred as Israel reportedly agreed in principle yesterday to allow the deployment of a lightly armed force of international observers in Hebron. In talks in Cairo, the PLO and Israel also agreed in principle to joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols, according to the New York Times.

Negotiators labored over the details of the agreements late into the night in the hope of reaching a consensus that would enable Israel and the PLO to resume formal negotiations on limited Palestinian self-rule in the Israeli-occupied territories. Those negotiations were severed by the PLO after the Feb. 25 massacre in Hebron.

But Israeli officials emphasized privately that some important issues were still unresolved, including the size of the Palestinian and international forces, their precise duties and authority over Palestinian officers in the joint units.

The deployment of armed international monitors would come none too soon for many of the Palestinians who watched the Israeli operation here Wednesday.

"There's no law anywhere in the world that accepts what they did yesterday," said Mohammed Abdel Fatah Shabani, 32, as he baked bread for his neighbors under curfew. "We see [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin] speaking in English to the world about peace, and look what they do here."

What Israel has done, in the eyes of Palestinians, is use its authority to punish civilians.

For four weeks now, since the massacre at the Hebron mosque, Arabs in Hebron have been under curfew, prohibited from sending their children to school, from opening their businesses, from going to work.

"The victims are paying the price," said a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat. "We are being massacred economically. We are being massacred educationally. We are being massacred socially."

"This is a reinforcement of our point," said Kamal Daud, 25, as he looked from his home over the site of the rocket attack. "They kill us, and they put us under curfew. We definitely need international protection."

From his home, one could see the neat, white block houses of Hebron spilling down the two sides of a valley. Near the crevice, a gash in the scenery marked the remains of the house bombarded by the Israel army and crushed flat by bulldozers.

The action was criticized by Egypt. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, appealed to the United States to condemn Israel's use of force.

Since the massacre, Israel has found itself on the defensive. The arguments have been reversed: Before, negotiations centered on Israel's demands for the safety of Jews in the territories; now the talks are about Palestinian demands for protection from Israelis.

The massacre pointed up a requirement Palestinians have long complained that Israel has forgotten.

As a military power occupying areas captured in a war, Israel is obligated under international law to protect the citizens living there.

"Since the occupation, the government is in charge of our safety. But everything they have done is to the contrary," said Barakat Gharabi, a 50-year-old Hebronite. "The government that is supposed to be protecting us is killing us."

In testimony before the Israeli inquiry commission to the massacre, the army chief and each of his subordinates said they had never made plans for the protection of Arabs, but considered their job to be solely the protection of Jews.

Testifying Wednesday, army Chief of Staff Ehud Barak acknowledged that the settler's attack was "a bolt from the blue."

He said orders have been revised allowing soldiers to fire on Jewish gunmen and insisted that "our aim is to prevent losses on both sides."

But Palestinians do not view the massacre by Baruch Goldstein as that of an isolated madman, as Israeli officials have portrayed it. They see it as the extreme of a continuum that includes such government acts as curfews, arrests and shootings.

As proof, they cite the curfew imposed on Hebron after the

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