Palestinians set to take reins in Gaza

April 04, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- The long talks over Palestinian autonomy seem poised to produce action, as the first Palestinian police prepare to enter Gaza and Jericho today or tomorrow and dozens of Palestinian deportees get ready to return.

The Israeli army continued moving equipment out of the Gaza Strip yesterday even as negotiators in Cairo, Egypt, labored over the final details of the Israeli withdrawal.

"It's now definitely irreversible," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said of the agreement to start the Israeli pullout, the first step in the historic peace accord announced last September between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The agreement calls for Palestinian self-rule to start with Gaza City and Jericho, on the West Bank.

Even as Mr. Shaath spoke, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with right-wing leaders in an apparent attempt to mollify their strident opposition. He repeated a promise that there would be no withdrawal now of Jewish settlers from Hebron, the site of the Feb. 25 massacre of 30 Muslims by an Israeli settler.

"We're going to keep up our pressure," said Yechiel Leiter, head of the settlers' group. "It's very clear the prime minister had intentions to remove Jews from Hebron. He chose not to because of the public pressure."

Another settler leader, Zvi Katzover, warned the Israeli commission investigating the massacre that there will be more bloodshed unless the government cracked down.

"An atmosphere like this could push Jews to desperate and unconsidered acts," said Mr. Katzover, mayor of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement beside Hebron where Baruch Goldstein, the mosque gunman, lived.

He said that if there is a "further weakening of the standing of Jews . . . God forbid, there will be a need for another commission" of inquiry.

Most Israelis reacted with revulsion at the massacre. But support for Goldstein, who apparently was killed when his gun jammed, has been both public and strong, to the acknowledged surprise of Mr. Rabin and other officials.

Israeli authorities have taken some steps against the extremist settlers, arresting seven and disarming about 50. Yesterday the police captured one of the leaders, Baruch Marzel, who had taunted the government for three weeks by continuing to give frequent interviews even while the police said they could not find him.

Mr. Marzel took over as head of the extremist group Kach after the 1991 assassination in New York of its founder, American Rabbi Meir Kahane. He was captured by police yesterday in the house of Yoram Skolnick, who is in prison on charges of executing a Palestinian who had been captured and tied on the ground outside a settlement near Hebron last year.

Officials announced that Mr. Marzel will be held without trial in administrative detention for three months, a procedure normally reserved for Palestinians.

Since the massacre, the 100,000 Palestinians in Hebron have been under curfew. All of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been under a closure keeping many Palestinians from their jobs, schools and hospitals in Jerusalem and inside Israel.

That closure was criticized in the annual Easter services yesterday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is believed to have been entombed.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Monsignor Michel Sabbah, condemned restrictions that kept fellow Palestinian Christians from entering Jerusalem to pray yesterday.

In an earlier-recorded radio interview, Monsignor Sabbah suggested that Pope John Paul II cannot visit Jerusalem until "Christians of Bethlehem can reach Jerusalem without the permission of a military governor, when they and all other inhabitants of the occupied territories are free and not subject to such severe security measures."

He also condemned Palestinian "opportunists," who he said are creating turmoil within the community. They "are destroying unity and security by their attacks on their brothers," he said.

Rival factions of the PLO's Fatah and Muslim Hamas groups yesterday seemed on the verge of a new outbreak of internal fighting in the Gaza Strip when each group kidnapped a leader of the other.

The kidnapped men later were released as Palestinian leaders sought to intervene and arrange a meeting to calm the conflict.

Palestinian observers said the Israeli agreement to permit the return of dozens of deportees this week was another attempt to strengthen Fatah's control in the territories.

Some of those deportees, expelled during the long conflict with Israel, have become ranking officers of the PLO in Amman, Jordan, and Tunis, Tunisia.

Israeli sources said about 32 deportees would be permitted to come back this week. But Faisal al-Husseini, the top PLO official in the West Bank, said yesterday that the list had grown.

"We now have 49 people who can return starting from tomorrow," he said.

Also preparing to enter the occupied territories are the first officers of the Palestinian police. As many as 300 to 500 police officers were expected to arrive from Egypt and Jordan this week to take over camps in Jericho and the Gaza Strip as the Israeli army pulls back.

"They will enter the moment the Israeli forces withdraw," Mr. Husseini said.

The Palestinian police force is expected to number between 8,000 and 10,000 as the autonomy plan progresses.

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