Levinger Arrested and Held for Questioning About Suspected West Bank Jewish Underground Terrorists

Rabbi Moshe Levinger of Hebron, a leader of one of the most militant groups of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, was arrested by Jerusalem police last night and held for 48 hours for questioning.

His detention followed several days during which he was called to police headquarters for interrogation about a suspected Jewish terrorist underground in the West Bank believed responsible for the aborted attempt to sabotage Arab-owned buses in East Jerusalem last month and for other acts of violence against Arab civilians in recent years.

Security agencies reportedly suspect that Levinger has important connections with the underground and may have had prior knowledge of some of its activities and participated in planning them.

Yediot Achronot reported today that Levinger may have signed a confession related to those suspicions. His son-in-law was one of the first West Bank settlers arrested after security forces foiled the bus sabotage attempt on April 27.

The 25 suspects now detained in separate prisons all over Israel are said to have been linked to the attack on the Islamic College in Hebron last July in which three Arab students were killed and 33 wounded. Security agencies are also trying to establish a link between the underground and the June 1980 car bombings that maimed two West Bank Arab mayors.

REPORT SHAMIR APPROVED LEVINGER’S ARREST

According to Yediot Achronot, the police wanted to arrest Levinger last Thursday after his first interrogation. But Premier Yitzhak Shamir intervened, asking that no arrest be made until there is absolutely no doubt of Levinger’s connections with the underground. Shamir finally approved the arrest yesterday, Yediot Achronot reported.

Residents of Kiryat Arba, the religious Jewish stronghold adjacent to Hebron which Levinger helped establish, were stunned when news of Levinger’s arrest reached them shortly before midnight Sunday. The town council immediately went into emergency session to decide what the community’s reaction would be.

“We feel that we need spiritual support,” Mayor Shalom Wach of Kiryat Arba said. Town residents expressed fear that other local leaders might be summoned by the police.

Levinger, a leader of the Gush Emunim which bases Israel’s claims to the occupied territories on divine injunction, was in the forefront of the Jewish settlement movement since the territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

He led the first group of Jewish squatters in Hebron in 1968 and later prevailed on the then Labor-led government to build Kiryat Arba which has become the largest Jewish township on the West Bank.

Levinger moved from Kiryat Arba several years ago to establish himself and a group of followers in the former Jewish quarter of Hebron. He recently returned from a visit to the U.S. to raise funds to restore the Jewish quarter.

When the investigation of the bus sabotage attempt appeared to confirm the long-rumored existence of a Jewish underground based on the West Bank, Levinger spoke out against vigilantism. At the same time, however, he appeared to excuse it as a necessary response to the government’s ineptness. He charged that the government was lax in protecting Jewish settlers from Arab terrorist acts.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported today that one of the suspects in the bus sabotage attempt, an army officer with the rank of major, has been on a hunger strike for the last two days to protest the “exaggerated action” of the security services against Jewish settlers.

The investigation reportedly is now focussing on an alleged plot by Jewish extremists to blow up the El Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two major Islamic shrines on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. Some of the suspects were said to have confessed and to have re-enacted their plans for the police yesterday and today.

There has been no official confirmation of any of these reports. The investigation remains under a news blackout. There was no indication today if or when any of the suspects will be formally charged.

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