Despite opposition, PLO meets Israelis in Cairo

March 30, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JABALIYA REFUGE CAMP, Occupied Gaza Strip -- Yasser Arafat sent Palestinian negotiators to meet Israelis in Cairo, Egypt, yesterday despite an outcry of opposition here to the peace talks after the slaying of six Palestinians by Israeli agents.

That opposition took voice in a storm-front of clashes throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip yesterday. Palestinians protested what they called "a massacre" of the six Palestine Liberation Organization activists by a plainclothes Israeli squad in Jabaliya Monday night.

The army acknowledged that the slayings were "a mistake, based on the fact that these men were perceived to be terrorists, they were carrying weapons, they were in military fatigues."

At least one Palestinian was killed and 60 wounded in the clashes yesterday. Near Tel Aviv, one Israeli was hacked with an ax and critically injured.

Israel responded with tougher measures, imposing new curfews on Palestinian areas and announcing the closure of all schools in the West Bank.

"The schools are being closed to prevent clashes with students," said a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip called for three days of confrontations with the army.

In the face of the worsening skirmishes in the occupied territories, Israeli officials continued to speak optimistically about the prospects for progress in talks with Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres insisted that an agreement is imminent to install a small force of international observers and Palestinian police in Hebron, and to return to final negotiations for an Israeli withdrawal from Jericho and the Gaza Strip.

"This is regrettable," he said of Monday's shooting. "Violent acts will continue to take place on both sides. . . . But the peace process must continue."

Officials were mum on the results of a meeting at a secret location in Cairo yesterday between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The Arab delegates said they did not negotiate but simply received a response from Israel to previous proposals.

It seemed clear that negotiations in some form are resuming despite the angry opposition of many Palestinians by Palestinians, including many in Mr. Arafat's own mainstream faction, Fatah.

The six Palestinians killed Monday night were Fatah activists. They were shot by undercover Israeli agents as the Palestinians handed out leaflets in support of the peace process.

The Israeli army said the six were shot because they had #F weapons. Capt. Danny Seaman, a spokesman for the army, said the undercover squad assumed the armed and masked men operating in Jabaliya, a stronghold of the Muslim resistance group Hamas, were dangerous.

The undercover squads "had all the reason to believe that these were Hamas," he said. "There was no way to check it out. !B There's no time to ask if they are PLO or Hamas."

He said if the soldiers had known the men were from the PLO, they would not have fired.

"The fact that they had weapons was a threat," Captain Seaman said. "This is a war situation. It's not a police incident. There are no pleasantries, no niceties. This is an armed struggle."

Palestinians called the shootings "a massacre." They said no shots were fired by the Palestinians. They said that two of the six were shot in the head point blank after being wounded or captured.

"One of the [Palestinian] guys ran away from the car and came inside the shop," said Nofal Abu-Eida, who lives in the building next to the scene of the shootings and said he witnessed the events.

"He was still alive. One of the [Israeli] undercover men came and dragged him outside. He put his foot on his neck and shot with his Uzi machine gun in his head," said Mr. Abu-Eida. "Another guy was injured and lay there, and the Israelis came over and shot him."

Captain Seaman said that that account was "absolutely denied."

The shooting occurred about 7 p.m. Monday at a dusty street corner where the Palestinians had stopped to distribute leaflets. Six undercover Israeli soldiers who had apparently been waiting at the corner confronted the Palestinians and opened fire.

Several Fatah leaders in Gaza yesterday denied Israeli army accounts that the Palestinians were armed, wore green fatigues and masks over their faces. But Mr. Abu-Eida confirmed those accounts. He said he saw the Palestinians with an Uzi automatic weapon, two Kalashnikov automatic rifles and two pistols. He said they fired no shots. Palestinians often cover their faces with a mask when engaged in public political activities.

In Tunis, Tunisia, Mr. Arafat charged that the slayings were the work of a secret organization of Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers that is trying to destroy the peace negotiations.

"These killings are not isolated events. It was planned. We are facing a secret organization from within the Israeli army and radical settlers," he told Reuters.

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