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Mounting Confrontation Between Sinai Settlers and the Government

Angry residents of Yamit burned a second house there last night. A house was burned the previous night and the townspeople, claiming they could not afford to buy a fire truck, summoned the fire department from the nearby Arab town of Rafah to put out the blaze.

The fires were the latest incidents in the mounting confrontation between the settlers in northern Sinai and the government over compensation for relocating when the region is returned to Egypt next April. The Cabinet remains badly divided over what action to take to maintain order in Yamit. The residents flatly rejected a Cabinet appeal yesterday to resume negotiations for compensation.

Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the government’s most outspoken hawk, is counseling patience. His position was supported by the National Religious Party ministers. But ministers of of Likud’s Liberal Party wing joined Herut’s Mordechai Zipori, the Minister of Communications, in demanding a tough response as recommended by Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir.

Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Economic Coordinator Yaacov Meridor and Finance Minister Yoram Aridor, all of Herut, kept their own counsel. Apparently, they are waiting for a reaction from Premier Menachem Begin who, so far, has been silent.

SAYS YAMIT RUN BY HOODLUMS

Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Simcha Ehrlich, who is in charge of negotiations with the Yamit settlers, charged yesterday that the town was being run by a group of hoodlums who are terrorizing the other residents. Ehrlich was supposed to visit Yamit but both the town leaders and the army said they could not guarantee his safety. Ehrlich said Yamit businessmen were demanding individual payments of 2.2 million Shekels in advance of their relocation, a sum the government could not and would not pay.

Sharon, for his part, said he would not be the government’s “hatchet man” and warned his colleagues not to take any action which the Defense Ministry could not carry out. This was a hint that he would not use force against the Sinai settlers. He also hinted that it would be to Israel’s advantage to keep the world guessing whether Israel would carry out its treaty obligation to evacuate all of Sinai by the April, 1982 deadline.

“We lose nothing if the Egyptians and the Americans know that the rest of Sinai is not safe in their pocket,” he reportedly told his Cabinet colleagues.

Begin, however, has assured Egypt that Israel would honor its commitment to withdraw on time. That pledge was contained in a letter delivered to President Hosni Mubarak today by the Israeli Ambassador in Cairo, Moshe Sasson. (See separate story. P.I)

Meanwhile, Yamit activists reportedly said they would not mind a violent confrontation with the government if it would advance their demands. Some have suggested that Yamit declare itself an autonomous region with its own passports and customs inspections. “They will have to declare war on us, either Israel or Egypt,” some residents said. Zamir said he could take no legal action against them because the area is under military jurisdiction.

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