Israel set to resume PLO talks

October 17, 1994|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Ready for a fresh start, Israel said yesterday that it would resume negotiations that it had broken off with the Palestine Liberation Organization and would reopen the Gaza Strip, blockaded for nearly a week because of the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Islamic radicals.

Spokesmen for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that new talks on Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza would begin tomorrow in Cairo, Egypt, and that Gazans would again be allowed today to leave for jobs in Israel.

It was clear that the Israeli government had decided not to be deflected from the peace course it set with the PLO last year, despite the national trauma caused by the abduction and death of Nahshon Waxman, who was killed by his captors Friday night during a failed Israeli army rescue attempt. The 20-year-old soldier was promoted posthumously from corporal to sergeant yesterday.

To further underscore that their basic policies remain intact, Mr. Rabin met in Amman, Jordan, last night with King Hussein to iron out differences that stood in the way of a peace treaty.

The unannounced visit ended early today without any major progress, an official Jordanian statement said.

It was the second meeting in five days for the Israeli and Jordanian leaders, reflecting their eagerness to wrap up a treaty by year's end and thus cement a relationship that has been openly warm since they agreed in July to end a state of war that had lasted 46 years. Unlike the situation with the PLO -- many Israelis are still not sure that it was wise to agree to Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho, in the West Bank -- peace with King Hussein is highly popular in Israel.

Last night, Israel's leading television news program took 25 minutes before it reported details of the Amman event. Instead, it focused on the Waxman kidnapping and its aftermath, which included the deaths of another Israeli soldier and three kidnappers from the Hamas Islamic group during the rescue mission.

The emotional impact of the episode on Israelis was evident as thousands upon thousands of people turned out for the young soldier's funeral, which began before midnight and stretched into early yesterday at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Military men wept openly at the graveside. Yehuda and Esther Waxman, the slain soldier's parents, who quickly became symbols of dignity in pain for many Israelis, looked numbed.

For much of last week, the prime minister had insisted that the kidnapped soldier was being held in PLO-controlled Gaza and that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was therefore personally responsible for seeing that he returned home safely. Mr. Rabin proved to be wrong. The soldier seemed to have been kept all along in a West Bank village under Israeli control, a mere two miles from his Jerusalem home.

Israel continued yesterday to insist that the PLO bore responsibility all the same, for allowing Hamas gunmen to operate in Gaza and to strike at Israeli targets. Still, the swift agreement yesterday to resume talks and lift the Gaza blockade came as close to an act of contrition as Israel is likely to get.

It also focused attention on reports that PLO security forces had helped Israel track down the kidnappers by passing along information obtained from some of the 200 or more Hamas militants rounded up in a crackdown.

In the meantime, divisions caused by the kidnapping widened yesterday between Hamas and Mr. Arafat's governing Palestinian Authority, which promises to be tough with armed Islamic extremists.

Hundreds of Palestinian police blocked roads in Gaza City to prevent riots, then joined Israeli soldiers in defusing protests by hundreds of Islamic militants near an isolated Jewish settlement, Netzarim.

Several hours later, Palestinian police persuaded the rioters to disperse. Lt. Abu Mohammed said there were no casualties.

Violence also was reported in the West Bank, where soldiers shot and killed a 22-year-old Palestinian near Hebron after he refused orders to halt.

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