Palestinians arrest more than 100 Islamic militants after suicide bombing

November 13, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NETZARIM, Gaza Strip -- Raiding scores of houses and a mosque, the Palestinian police arrested more than 100 Islamic militants yesterday in a crackdown ordered after a suicide bomber killed three Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near this Jewish settlement.

But even as they spoke of a new, tougher policy against Muslim militants, leaders of the Palestinian self-rule authority said that the Israelis would not have died Friday if the 19 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip did not exist.

In particular, they denounced Netzarim, an isolated community near the Mediterranean where platoons of Israeli soldiers stand guard over at most 28 families.

"Netzarim has been a sore point," said Nabil Shaath, the %J Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, another official, said, "The settlements represent a time bomb, and we think that in order to overcome many difficulties on the security level, this issue must be resolved, and resolved soon."

Many Israeli leaders share this opinion of Gaza's 5,000 settlers, who have been allowed to stay on under army protection even though Israel withdrew from Palestinian towns and refugee camps last May.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other Israeli officials have singled out Netzarim for withering scorn.

But the Israeli government has given no sign that it is about to remove settlers, mainly to avoid touching off a domestic political storm.

Mr. Shaath, too, acknowledged that Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization had accepted that Israelis are to remain in Gaza for now.

So the Palestinians had a "responsibility to guard the safety and security of everybody until a decision is made to take Netzarim out," he said after leaving a weekly meeting held by Mr. Arafat with senior officials in Gaza City.

The PLO responded to the suicide bombing by rounding up members of Islamic Holy War, a militant group that took responsibility for the Netzarim attack, calling it revenge for a car bombing that killed one of its leaders last week.

In the Friday incident, a young man rode up on a bicycle to the checkpoint, which is guarded by both Israeli and Palestinian forces, and set off explosives he was carrying.

Besides killing the three soldiers, all officers on reserve duty, he wounded six Israeli servicemen and six Palestinians, including a family that happened to passing in a car.

At least 100 people were said to have been held, and some reports put the figure at close to 150.

Most were described as middle-level supporters of Islamic Holy War and not the group's leaders, who had anticipated the raids and gone into hiding.

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