Rabin suggests that Israel killed Palestinian militants insult Arafat

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

JERUSALEM -- Israel is encouraging the conclusion that it has assassinated an Islamic radical and may resort to the tactic again.

On the night of the car-bomb slaying of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member Wednesday in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin seemed to acknowledge Israeli responsibility.

"With one hand we are shaking the hand of peace with Jordan, and with the other hand we are pulling the trigger to harm the murderers of Hezbollah and the terrorists of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad," Mr. Rabin said.

At the funeral yesterday of the slain man, Hani Abed, the leaders of the Palestinian opposition made it clear that each side could end up in a bloody vendetta, vowing that Israel would "feel revenge on the streets of Tel Aviv."

"Rabin should prepare the coffins and the sorrow of the Israeli people to receive their victims," said Sheik Abdullah as-Shami, a leader of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The funeral also brought an unusual public humiliation of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the pro-peace Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Mr. Arafat was jeered when he came to the funeral of Mr. Abed yesterday. Angry Palestinians yelled "traitor" to Mr. Arafat and forced him to cut short his visit.

According to witnesses, thousands of enraged mourners at the Omari mosque in Gaza City jostled Mr. Arafat so roughly that they knocked his trademark black-and-white checked keffiyeh from his head, then pushed him out of the mosque into a rainstorm.

Mr. Abed, 31, was a university teacher who worked part time in a press office of the Islamic Jihad. He was killed Wednesday when a bomb in his car exploded.

Government officials have pointedly declined to deny involvement in the killing. Palestinians say it was part of a plan secretly approved by the Israeli government to assassinate radical Palestinians after a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a Tel Aviv bus Oct. 19, killing 22 passengers.

Uri Dromi, the Israeli government spokesman, said yesterday that Mr. Rabin's comments were not necessarily intended to confirm responsibility for Mr. Abed's death.

"We don't admit. We don't confirm. We don't deny," said Mr. Dromi. He continued:

"The untimely death of Mr. Hani Abed is one of those things that probably happens to people so quick to kill others. I wouldn't be surprised if some people, either Israeli or Palestinians, say, 'How long do we have to take it?' "

Israel is usually quick to deny Palestinian accusations, hTC particularly about any action in which they are not involved.

But in this case, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Dromi have encouraged conclusions that Israel was responsible for the assassination by pointedly refusing to issue a denial and instead offering justifications for the attack on Mr. Abed.

Israeli officials also have declined to deny reports that the Cabinet adopted a secret plan of assassinations after the Tel Aviv bus bombing.

"This region is becoming dangerous not only to the victims of terror, but to the perpetrators of terror acts," Mr. Dromi said. "Israel is fighting against these people because that is its responsibility."

Mr. Abed had been arrested by the Palestinian police in May for 17 days. He was questioned about his activities in Islamic Jihad, and about the killing of two Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip that month. He was released without charges.

Israel initially demanded that Mr. Abed be turned over to them but did not pursue the matter. Now, Israeli newspapers have quoted sources in the government as saying that Mr. Abed was wanted for the killing of the two soldiers and was a "senior Islamic Jihad" official.

The government's handling of the case and the public escalation of the importance of Mr. Abed follows the Israeli public's demand for a response to the recent series of terrorist attacks.

"The government was under a lot of pressure to do something," said Efraim Inbar, director of the Besa Center of Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. "I believe assassinations can be an effective tactic. We live in a very dangerous world. It's a rough game here, and we have to play it."

But the tactic has risks. One is the condemnation from other countries and human rights groups, although the United States has been notably low-key about such allegations against Israel. And the tactic could backfire in the volatile Gaza Strip by escalating tensions or undermining Mr. Arafat.

Israel has resorted to punitive assassinations in the past. After the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, Germany, Israeli agents embarked on a worldwide campaign to kill those it thought responsible.

That campaign ended in embarrassment when Israeli agents mistakenly killed a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway. His death came a year after at least nine assassinations.

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