Israel skeptical of Hamas offer to halt bombings Sealing of houses, severe travel limits among measures taken

March 06, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- The military wing of Hamas said yesterday that it will stop setting off bombs in Israel for four months if Israel does not attack its members, but Israel reacted skeptically.

"There is nothing new. It's a pattern. Whenever they are under pressure, they try to divert it with this kind of offer," said Israeli government spokesman Uri Dromi.

Israel began putting into practice tougher measures against Palestinians yesterday, sealing eight houses belonging to relatives of alleged Hamas members, arresting Palestinian workers illegally in Israel and imposing severe restrictions on Palestinian movements.

The measures were part of a "total war" declared on Islamic militants by Prime Minister Shimon Peres after four suicide bombings in nine days killed 60 persons. The steps went into effect as angry Israelis buried some of the victims of the latest attack, in which an Islamic militant blew himself up Monday outside Tel Aviv's main shopping mall. Five of the 13 killed were children.

Officials continued to suggest that Israel plans undercover or military raids inside Palestinian-controlled areas -- in violation of the peace accords -- to strike at Hamas. But those raids might not be immediate, they said.

Peres warns Palestinians

Mr. Peres lashed out on two other fronts yesterday.

Facing an erosion of his support for the peace process with the Palestinians, he warned the Palestinian leadership that Israel would not proceed with the withdrawal from the West Bank town of Hebron until the Palestine national covenant is amended to delete portions calling for the elimination of Israel.

And standing at the border between Israel and Lebanon after the death in South Lebanon of four Israeli soldiers, Mr. Peres said he had asked the United States to "make clear the message [to Syria] that we will not agree to the continuation of this war."

Israel has been at war in South Lebanon for years against Islamic fundamentalist "Party of God" guerrillas. Syria has a substantial army in Lebanon, and Israel contends that the Islamic fundamentalists could not operate without Syrian acquiescence.

In Israel and the West Bank and in Jerusalem, the crackdown was severest. Soldiers stopped Palestinians, checking documents and preventing their exit from towns and villages.

"Up to a week ago, we thought the roads must be open to allow free movement," an army commander, who was not identified, told Israel radio. "Now we will not let life flow."

The public promise by Hamas yesterday to stop the suicide bombs is not likely to deter Israel. Hamas made public offers to stop for two weeks and again for three months before the last two bombings, but it did not do so.

But unlike the earlier statements, this was a promise by the militants to heed the call by their own leaders in the political wing of the Hamas movement to cease the bombings.

'Stop the martyrdom attacks'

"We call on all military wings and armed cells to stop the martyrdom attacks against Jews, and obey the central decisions," said the published leaflet, signed by the Izzedine al-Qassam military wing of Hamas. It said the move would be canceled if Israel attacked Hamas members, as it has pledged to do.

Political leaders of Hamas had issued an appeal Monday for an end to the bombings, which have brought intense pressure from Israel on the Palestinian authority to crack down on Hamas. Israeli officers rejected the offer yesterday.

"The army is engaged in a war against terror, and not in negotiation," said the head of the army's central command, Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran.

'We don't believe them'

"We have had three of these offers now," Mr. Dromi said. "The bottom line is we don't believe them."

Reports from Gaza yesterday indicated that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was making the additional arrests of Hamas members requested by Israel. But it was unclear whether he made the wholesale arrests of the leadership as Israel had demanded.

Israeli soldiers welded steel plates onto the entrances and windows of the homes of family members of assassinated bomb-maker Yehiya Ayyash and seven other alleged Hamas suicide bombers or activists.

The homes will be demolished, army officials said. All are in areas of the West Bank controlled by Israel.

Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, protested that such demolitions violate the Geneva Convention. It also complained about the arrests of family members, including the 8-year-old sister of Sufiyan Jabarin, who carried out a bombing in Jerusalem last year.

The return to such punishments, which had been used extensively by Israel in the past, has created some division in the Israeli government. Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban said several liberal ministers abstained from voting for the measures at an emergency Cabinet meeting Monday night.

"What good will it do" to destroy houses with children and old people, he said, noting that it had not worked to stop terrorism in the previous 25 years.

Israel was expected to receive today a shipment of bomb-detection devices from the United States. The equipment, which could be used at checkpoints, is of "symbolic support," Mr. Dromi said.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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