Israel threatens deeper strikes

6 Palestinians killed

Sharon says contacts with Arafat are over

October 19, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Israeli tanks moved into Palestinian cities yesterday, and Israeli officials warned the Palestinian Authority that it faces the same fate as the Taliban of Afghanistan if it refuses to arrest and turn over the men who assassinated an Israeli Cabinet minister.

The army said it moved into Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin in the West Bank in response to the killing Wednesday of Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi, who was shot to death in East Jerusalem. But the military moves also were a warning to Palestinians that Israeli officials are serious about their demands and are poised to strike deeper if the killers aren't turned over.

Six Palestinians, including a 12-year-old girl and a militant on Israel's most-wanted list, were killed in violence during the day, including artillery fire and a car that exploded in mysterious circumstances. And each side warned that its relations with the other could become worse.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told an emergency session of his security Cabinet in the early hours of the morning that contacts with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were over. "I am finished with Arafat," he said. "I intend to lead the government on another path."

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo accused Sharon of using the army to escalate tensions between the two sides, to undermine a peace process that until last week had gained considerable momentum. "Sharon's original plan is to continue war against the Palestinian people," Rabbo said. "He is using provocative tactics to inflame the situation and to drag the Palestinian extremist forces into action. We will not join him in his bloody orchestra against the peace process."

Both sides are now trapped in tough rhetoric and in a vicious cycle of killing that escalates nearly every day. And Israeli and Palestinian officials have each demanded actions of the other that the opposing sides claim they are incapable of meeting.

Palestinian leaders want Israel to end its military blockade of Palestinian cities, something Israel calls impossible given the deteriorating security situation and threats of more assassinations and suicide bombings.

Israel is demanding that Arafat reign in militant factions that are not directly under his control. Arafat risks an angry backlash from the street if he arrests members of radical groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed responsibility for the death of Zeevi.

Israeli police said yesterday that they knew the names of three suspects in the shooting, and have turned them over to the Palestinian officials. Failure to act, Israel's security cabinet said, "will leave us with no choice but to view the Palestinian Authority as an entity supporting and sponsoring terror, and to act accordingly."

Rabbo promised arrests in Zeevi's killing, but extraditing suspects to Israel is unlikely to occur. And demonstrators would be likely to oppose it with violence. Palestinian protestors won the release last month of Atef Abayat, who was wanted by Israel for his suspected role in the killing last month of an Israeli woman. Palestinian police said Abayat "got a talking-to" and was set free - but died yesterday when his car exploded.

The Israeli victim being mourned was a 75-year-old cabinet minister and former army officer who began his military career before the founding of the state. He had been a household name for decades.

Zeevi was a prime target for the Palestinians because of his views that were considered extreme even by right-wing Israeli standards. Known for outbursts during sessions of parliament, he advocated expelling the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But in death, Zeevi, who was widely known as "Gandhi," was described as a national hero and one of the staunchest proponents of Zionism. At the Knesset, Israeli's parliament, thousands of mourners walked by his coffin, placed on a black carpet and draped by an Israeli flag and surrounded by wreaths.

His wife, Yael, gathered around the coffin with her five children. She had found Zeevi's body outside his hotel room of the East Jerusalem Hyatt on Wednesday morning shortly after breakfast. He had been shot two or three times in the head and neck.

At his burial service on Mount Herzl, the speakers talked of war. An Israeli public that once dismissed Zeevi's hatred for the Palestinians as racist and rejected as ludicrous his proposal to "transfer" Palestinians seemed ready to reconsider his ideas. His funeral showed he had found more legitimacy in death than he had in life.

"From the time you entered politics, you were pushed out of the consensus," said Zeevi's son, Yitah-Palmach Zeevi, named after the Jewish militia, the Palmach, that his father served in before Israel became a state. "But now finally, you are getting the appreciation you deserve."

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