Israel angry as peace exacts a rising price

January 24, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- On the road to peace, Israel finds itself paying the costs of a war.

Israel buried its dead yesterday from Sunday's suicide bombing, grimly adding 19 more names to a death toll from terrorism already higher than it has been in seven years.

"The whole nation is an army, the whole country is a front line until we overcome this problem," said Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a televised address last night.

He spoke to a sullen public, angry at the succession of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists opposed to the peace process with Israel and frustrated at the lack of evident solutions. Thousands attended funerals scattered around this small country, and even those who knew no victims were affected as they resumed their daily routines.

"Tears of Rage," was the headline in the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv.

"The Children Who Will Not Return," the headline of the daily Yediot Ahronot said of the victims, all but one of them soldiers younger than 25.

Israel Radio played mournful music throughout the day, and the newscasts were melancholy with the readings of funeral times and locations.

The gloom was deepened by a general feeling that things are getting worse for Israel. Threatened with a fanatic foe using stronger weapons and more sophisticated tactics than before, Israel is quickly losing the advantage it long held in the conflict with Palestinians.

For the first six years of the Palestinian uprising that began in 1987, Israeli casualties were less than 15 percent of the Palestinian death toll-- 178 Israelis died over that period compared with 1,206 Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers or civilians.

When Israel signed a peace pact with the Palestine Liberation Organization in September 1993, Israelis believed the violence would subside. Instead, last year, Israeli casualties rose as Palestinian fatalities dropped. Seventy-three Israelis were killed by Palestinians, and 152 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers or civilians.

"We all expected with some advance of the peace process it would strengthen the supporters of peace among the Palestinians and weaken the others," said Yigal Carmon, the government's adviser on terrorism until 1993. "But neither happened."

The peace process mostly ended for the majority of Palestinians the routine of confrontations with Israeli soldiers. But, ironically, it spurred more deadly attacks from a small minority.

The total number of attacks on Israelis have declined since 1992, in part because Israeli troops withdrew from most of Gaza last May. But two Muslim fundamentalist groups -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- have carried out increasingly lethal attacks.

Attacks move inside Israel

In the past 10 months, five suicide bomb attacks on Israeli buses or bus stops have killed 58 people and undermined the Israeli public's feelings of security. All the attacks, like the one Sunday, were within Israel, moving the danger inside the so-called "green line" of Israel's borders.

"By doing it inside the green line, it has much more punch," said Lt. Col. Moshe Fogel, an army spokesman.

A top official of the Palestinian Authority, which supports the peace process, vowed yesterday to crack down on Muslim attackers from the Gaza Strip. "Anyone with incriminating evidence of his responsibility or involvement will be held accountable," said the official, Nabil Shaath.

But there was little confidence among Israelis that measures taken by the Palestinians -- or by their own government -- would help. The Israeli Cabinet late Sunday night agreed to extend the imprisonment of Palestinians without trial, to delay further Palestinian prisoner releases, and to impose a temporary closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- all measures that had been taken periodically before.

In addition, the Cabinet agreed to extend the broad leeway to the Israeli secret service to use interrogation and other methods unrestricted by rules permitting only "moderate" physical coercion of Palestinians.

But officials privately acknowledged yesterday that there is little that can be done to stop suicide bomb attacks such as the one at a bus stop in Netanya Sunday.

Bombs have been an occasional part of the Palestinian uprising, but they generally were homemade, often made up of canisters of cooking gas or gasoline, and not very effective.

But now, Islamic groups are using powerful explosives such as TNT. And they have recruited suicide bombers to ensure that the deadly packages are detonated in the midst of crowds.

"They have rising capabilities, and rising willingness to fight," said Mr. Carmon. "Today they are getting military explosives."

Sunday's tragedy, for example, involved the use of two bombs, the second of which was detonated by a suicide attacker just as people rushed to aid the victims of the first blast.

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