Clinton reassures Israelis President pledges U.S. solidarity, $100 million for counter-terrorism

'America grieves with you'

Visit appears to be effort to bolster support for Peres

March 15, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.

JERUSALEM -- President Clinton paid a lightning visit to Israel yesterday to show solidarity with its citizens and promised to give Israel $100 million for counter-terrorism.

As he left, Israel blew up the house of the widow of a suspected Hamas bomb-maker, resuming a controversial policy of family punishments.

In several appearances over 22 hours, Mr. Clinton sought to assure Israelis that the United States supports them fully in the aftermath of a series of suicide bombings that killed 61 people in Israel in nine days.

"America grieves with you and prays that you will be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem," he said.

He left Secretary of State Warren Christopher and CIA Director John M. Deutch in Israel to sign an agreement today to share intelligence and to provide Israel with training and equipment to fight terrorism.

Mr. Clinton said he will ask Congress for $50 million this year and $50 million next year for counter-terrorism assistance. Israel receives $3.2 billion annually from the United States in direct military and civilian aid, more than any other country.

The new money will include advanced bomb-detection equipment, X-ray systems, bomb-exploding robots and high-tech explosives sensors, the president's aides said.

Mr. Clinton came to Israel after Wednesday's anti-terrorism summit of 28 countries in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The president met yesterday with Israeli leaders, visited a school in Jerusalem and escorted the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on a visit to her husband's grave.

His visit prompted heavy security in Israel, which deployed 10,000 police half its national force and closed roads for hours during the president's hurried stops in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

He ended his visit in Tel Aviv, where he urged an audience of schoolchildren not to be daunted by fear.

Political opponents of Prime Minister Shimon Peres complained that Mr. Clinton's visit was largely to shore up support for the prime minister, who faces an election May 29 and whose stock in opinion polls dropped sharply after the bombings.

Asked about the allegation, Mr. Clinton said: "I do not interfere in the internal politics of other nations."

But much of Mr. Clinton's trip seemed like a campaign blitz for Mr. Peres, with the president leading the applause.

In turn, Mr. Peres heaped praise on Mr. Clinton as "one of the most wonderful people in the world, one of the greatest presidents that the United States has ever produced."

Mr. Clinton's assistance to Israel stopped short of a full-fledged bilateral defense agreement, despite reports in the Hebrew press that such a pact was forthcoming.

Mr. Clinton avoided criticizing Israel when asked about Israel's crackdown on Palestinians, which includes a blockade on the movement of Palestinians from 465 Arab villages and towns, widespread arrests of Palestinian fundamentalist Islamic activists, and demolition of family homes.

Yesterday, a blast was set off by the Israeli army near Nablus to destroy the family home of slain Hamas bomb-maker Yehiya Ayyash, part of Israel's resumption of a policy of family punishment that had been in abeyance.

The decision to demolish the house while Mr. Clinton was in the country is a sign that Israel feels it will face little criticism from the United States about the use of such methods of punishment.

Israel has announced that it intends to blow up houses belonging to the families of Palestinians linked to suicide bombings.

Human rights critics say the practice of punishing a family and leaving relatives homeless violates the Geneva Convention.

Israel regularly demolished houses of wanted Palestinians until 1993, but largely stopped the practice after reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians in Oslo, Norway.

Israeli officials also confirmed yesterday that they plan to expel Islamic militants, a measure that brought an outcry of international condemnation when last used in 1992.

Mr. Clinton said the effect of the measures on innocent Palestinians is "a legitimate concern," but he noted that "without security, there is no peace."

His appearance in Tel Aviv was aimed at Israeli youth, whose generally right-wing politics swung sharply toward the Labor government after the assassination of Mr. Rabin, but then seemed to swing back after the bombings.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Peres were greeted enthusiastically by youths at the Tel Aviv Center for Performing Arts, and left to the sounds of songs by the youngsters.

"I wasn't sure I should continue supporting peace," said 16-year-old Morial Ram. But he said that he was encouraged by (( the president's visit.

"The mere fact that he came shows us scared children that if our security forces can't protect us, help is coming from abroad," said Rotem Nahum, 18, of Tel Aviv.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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