Israel shuts offices of Palestinian moderate

He is leading voice against bombings, right of return


JERUSALEM - Israel shut down yesterday the office of Sari Nusseibeh, the leading voice of moderation among Palestinians here, accusing him of undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem by serving as an agent of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Nusseibeh, part of one of this city's royal Arab families and an Oxford- and Harvard-educated intellectual, has been a driving force among Palestinians who have signed a statement urging their compatriots to abandon suicide bombings against Israeli civilians as counterproductive. He has publicly said Palestinians must abandon their claim to a right of return to Palestinian lands.

Nusseibeh's stands have drawn death threats from other Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority has had to provide him with guards.

A little after 9 a.m., Israeli police officers converged on Al Quds University, where Nusseibeh is the president. They ordered the staff outside, carted out boxes of computer disks and files, and changed the locks, staff members said.

Their warrant, written in Hebrew, said the office was operating in violation of the Oslo accords, though the army has virtually obliterated the accords in recent weeks by reoccupying seven West Bank cities that were under Palestinian control.

Nusseibeh was traveling abroad and could not be reached for comment.

"Sari Nusseibeh's amiability," said Uzi Landau, the minister of public security, who ordered the seizure, "should not mislead us into thinking that he can't be used, like the Trojan horse, to steal in and undermine Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."

Landau, a hard-line Likud member of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet, added, "A civil representative of the Palestinian Authority was operating from the heart of Jerusalem with the aim of putting our sovereignty in question." Al Quds University is in mostly Arab East Jerusalem.

Hours later and a few blocks away, just outside the limestone walls of the Old City, a Palestinian shot and wounded a police officer who tried to search him. In the ensuing gunbattle, a 70-year-old Palestinian passer-by was shot to death, though it was not immediately clear whether he was shot by police or the gunman, who was arrested.

Abed Ajaj, a son-in-law of the dead passer-by, Mahmoud Bashir, 70, said Bashir had at least 70 grandchildren and had been on his way to pray at Al Aqsa mosque when he has killed.

"You just can't believe in one second the head of the family is gone," Ajaj said as relatives and friends began to gather for mourning. "All we have here is promises, promises. Twelve years, nothing changes."

With tensions running high, with Israeli forces enforcing curfews on most West Bank cities and with the government warning of possible suicide attacks, Israeli peace advocates and Palestinians criticized the move against Nusseibeh.

"As far as our government is concerned, nothing surprises me too much," said Yossi Sarid, the leader of the dwindling peace camp in the Israeli parliament.

"It's very unfortunate, very stupid," Sarid said. "The government is talking all the time about another leadership. Sari Nusseibeh is known to be a very moderate Palestinian. He is very courageous to express his views sometimes, and I don't think he deserved such an attitude. We are not too successful with our respective leadership."

Nabil Aburdeineh, a close adviser to Arafat, said: "This is a clear violation of the signed agreements. It has nothing to do with security; it has everything to do with damaging any sign of cooperation in the future. What kind of future can they be planning?"

The future of East Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians demand that the city - or, symbolically, its largely Arab eastern sector - become their capital. The Israelis claim the "undivided city" that they gained after the 1967 war.

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