Israeli anxieties rekindled

September 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- The killing of an Israeli soldier Sunday night in the Gaza Strip reinforced for Israelis yesterday the belief that neither their government nor the new Palestinian Authority has been able to stop recurring attacks by armed Palestinians opposed to peace talks.

After the latest incident, a drive-by shooting that left one soldier dead and two others wounded, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin cautioned that violence -- and the failure of Palestinian leaders to stop it -- could endanger future negotiations on extending Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories.

The extremist group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the shooting. In Gaza, senior Palestinian officials deplored the shooting and promised to chase the culprits and punish them. The police in Gaza said they had arrested a man who had been wounded in an exchange of gunfire during the ambush, but they did not say if charges would be brought against him.

In the four months of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho, Mr. Rabin has issued similar warnings about the peril to peace talks. By the same token, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and other leaders of the Palestinian Authority have affirmed more than once their commitment to rein in Islamic militants.

Yet for all the tough talk, there has been no end to shootings and knifings inside Israel and in the territories, where Israeli soldiers remain at the borders and around Jewish settlements despite their withdrawal from Arab towns and refugee camps.

Hours before the Gaza shooting on Sunday, two Jews on their way to the Western Wall were stabbed in the back and moderately wounded as they entered the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

Three nights earlier, two men said to belong to the militant group Hamas, apparently trying to plant a car bomb, were blown up in the West Bank. A few days before that, Hamas claimed responsibility for the fatal slashing of two Israeli workers at a construction site in Ramle, near Tel Aviv.

Echoes of other violent acts reverberated in Jerusalem yesterday when Israel announced that its security forces had arrested eight Hamas members suspected in connection with attacks that killed three Israeli civilians in the West Bank in May and July. Among those picked up was a brother of Jibril Rajub, the Palestinian Authority's security chief in Jericho.

From the start, Israeli leaders have warned that self-rule agreements reached with the PLO did not mean that true peace had arrived. Nonetheless, their frustration over recurring violence has poked through the surface more insistently of late, propelled in part by opposition accusations that the Rabin government has put Israeli lives in danger with its PLO deal.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some Israeli officials lay the blame squarely at Mr. Arafat's feet.

They say they know who carried out the Ramle killings but have gotten nowhere in their demands that the Palestinian police in Gaza hand over the suspects.

Mr. Arafat's defenders say he must walk a political tightrope between asserting his authority and not coming down too hard on Hamas, a potent and popular force in Gaza.

If so, Israel's leaders have their own balancing act, between demands for a get-tough policy and a perceived need, whatever the risks, to maintain a flow of Arab workers into Israel so that the Gaza economy does not implode.

Conspicuously, Israel has not sealed off the territories after the latest killings, an action routinely taken in the past. Its police have rounded up hundreds of Palestinian laborers who entered Israel illegally, but the borders are open for the roughly 30,000 Gazans with work permits.

Nor are Palestinian radicals Israel's only worry.

A young army officer and at least three other Israelis were reported yesterday to have been arrested on suspicion of organizing an armed group to attack Palestinians.

Information was scarce because a judge prohibited the publication of details. But the officer, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arbaa, was reportedly suspected of selling army weapons to anti-Arab extremists with roots in the banned Kach and Kahane Chai movements.

If confirmed, it would be the first armed Jewish group opposed to the Israel-PLO peace accord to emerge since Israel cracked down on right-wing organizations after the Feb. 25 Hebron mosque massacre.

Security forces arrested Lt. Oren Edri, 23, and at least four other Jewish settlers from Kiryat Arbaa, a militant enclave next to the West Bank town of Hebron, Israeli news media reported.

Lieutenant Edri, a deputy company commander, was suspected of trying to get weapons for attacks against Arabs.

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