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Jewish Settlers Establish Encampment at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus

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A possibly violent confrontation between militant Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Peace Now activists appeared to be developing today after the settlers established an encampment at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and declared their intention to create a permanent Jewish presence in the largest Arab city in the territory.

Peace Now warned that unless the settlers withdrew, they would stage a massive demonstration at the site tomorrow. Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who returned from Washington today, a day ahead of Premier Yitzhak Shamir, said he “understood” that the encampment in Nablus was not legal and “it will be dealt with accordingly.” He said he endorsed fully the decisions and actions taken in his absence by acting Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori. Zipori informed the settlers earlier that their encampment is illegal.

An advance delegation of four Peace Now activists visited the encampment today. “We shall not let you put a Jewish settlement inside Nablus. As far as we are concerned, this is the red line,” Danny Seidmann of Peace Now, told the campers, Orthodox Jews of the Gush Emunim movement.

The Peace Now group was received in a friendly manner. The settlers tried to convince them that their immediate purpose was not to settle in Nablus but to demonstrate until the government takes the necessary measures to ensure security for Jews on the West Bank.

The settlers are infuriated by the escalation of stone – throwing incidents by Arab youths. The move on Joseph’s Tomb, a sacred site to observant Jews, was made in the aftermath of an axe attack on Yosef Stem, a Jewish settler from nearby Bracha, in the Nablus marketplace early Monday morning. Stern was hospitalized for his wounds.

The settlers, in their statements to Peace Now and to the media, insisted that the purpose of their action was limited. They had promised Shamir and Arens, at a meeting before the two ministers left for Washington last Sunday, that, they would not take any provocative action while the ministers were abroad. Arens promised that the security situation in the territory would be discussed with them on his return.

Some media sources quoted Kiryat Arba leader Rabbi Moshe Levinger today as stating flatly that “Our main aim is to create a Jewish presence in Nablus.” Levinger and other religious militants claimed that the Bible “is our title deed.”

SITUATION POSES PROBLEM FOR THE GOVERNMENT

The deteriorating security situation on the West Bank poses a problem for the government. Settlers have accused government leaders and the military of failure to provide adequate protection for Jews, particularly when travelling on the roads in the territory. The incidence of stone-throwing by Arab youths has increased recently. The government insists that existing security measures are adequate and will be rigorously enforced.

The Gush Emunim have demanded a “tougher hand.” Reportedly, they want minimum prison terms for stone-throwers, deportation to Jordan for all alleged Arab “troublemakers,” and the prolonged closure of Arab universities in the territory which are regarded as hotbeds of Palestinian nationalism.

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