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Cabinet Defers Decision on Jewish Presence in Herron

The Cabinet deterred action to restore a Jewish presence in Hebron today but affirmed the right of Jews to live in that West Bank Arab town. The decision represented a compromise initiated by Premier Menachem Begin to break a deadlock between his ministers on the issue.

One group, led by Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, urged the immediate occupation by Jews of buildings in Hebron that had been owned by Jews who were massacred or forced to flee during the Arab uprising in 1929. This was supported by the Herut ministers, with the exception of Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. He and the Democratic Movement and most Liberal Party ministers, called for a postponement of any such move. The resolution finally adopted by the Cabinet stated that, in principle, there is no reason why Jews should not live in Hebron as they do anywhere else in “Eretz Israel.”

The matter is expected to be discussed again when the Cabinet meets next Sunday. The issue came to the fore in the aftermath of the murder of a 23-year-old yeshiva student, Yehoshua Sloma, in Hebron on January 31. Residents of Kiryat Arba, the Gush Emunim stronghold adjacent to Hebron, demanded the immediate occupation of former Jewish property in the town and the creation of a strong Jewish presence there. They were supported by other nationalist and religious militants.

FUNDS APPROVED FOR MORE HOUSING IN TERRITORIES

The Kiryat Arba residents in fact have proclaimed the restoration of the Jewish quarter in Hebron. One of their leaders, Elyokim Haetzni, warned that if the government did not approve “there is a danger of having a development which we really would not want to have.” Haetzni, who spoke to reporters before today’s Cabinet decision was announced, apparently was hinting that Kiryat Arba Jews would occupy buildings in Hebron without official sanction. A group of women from Kiryat Arba have been ensconced in the old Hadassah building in Hebron for several months.

The Kiryat Arba people also have been demanding the expansion and strengthening of their town. The Cabinet acceded to their wishes, at least partially, today when it decided to transfer funds to the Ministry of Housing to build new homes in the administered territories. It was understood that an additional 1400 housing units will be constructed in Kiryat Arba, in Efrat, a new town planned near Bethlehem, Moole Ephraim in the Jordan Valley and Katzrin on the Golan heights.

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