JERUSALEM (May. 27)
Demands for the death penalty for terrorists by Jewish settlers in the West Bank got strong backing from a Likud Cabinet minister over the weekend as controversy continued to rage over last week’s prisoner exchange.
Minister of Tourism Avraham Sharir has begun canvassing his colleagues in a campaign to introduce the death penalty for terrorists. Israel law does not provide the death penalty and terrorists convicted of murder, including many of those released in the exchange, are given life sentences.
Jewish militants in the West Bank, meanwhile, succeeded in forcing at least two of the terrorists released in the exchange to abandon their homes in the territory and take refuge in Jordan. Of the 1,150 Palestinians freed last Monday in return for three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon, 600 were permitted to return to their homes in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel. The settlers are demanding that every one of them be expelled.
Two of the latter, convicted of murdering David Rosenfeld at an archaeological site at Herodion three years ago, were literally driven from their homes in the Bedouin village of Faradis. They decided to leave after several nights of harassment by Jewish settlers which involved smashing windows, smearing red paint on the doorstep of one home and threats. Residents of Tekoah, where the murder victim had lived, expressed satisfaction that the two decided to leave. A third person involved in Rosenfeld’s murder could not be found at his home. But it is not certain he has left the territory.
NEW TERRORIST UNIT BROKEN UP
Some of the cells made vacant by the prisoner exchange have been filled again. An army spokesman announced Friday that security forces broke up a new terrorist cell operating in the Ramallah area. Its members are suspected of, among other things, the murder of an Israeli soldier, Aharon Avidar, while he stood guard outside a government building in the West Bank town of El Bireh last Febrary 4.
One member of the Ramallah cell reportedly confessed to shooting Avidar with a 22 mm. pistol which has been recovered. About 30 members of the cell were arrested for questioning. Israeli forces destroyed five houses belonging to gang members, four in Saffa village and one in Beit-Chor A-Tachta. Both villages were placed under curfew.
Military sources were quoted as saying they regarded recent terrorist activities in the territories as “very grave” and promised to “react quickly and harshly.” They were referring to the spate of attacks on Jewish buses on the Jerusalem-Hebron road and the murder of a Jewish settler, Zalman Obolnik, in the Ramallah vegetable market in April which may have been committed by Avidar’s killers.
Tensions in the West Bank continued high. Yeshiva students at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus blocked the road last Thursday after complaining of stone-throwing. Police ordered the students to disperse.
CONTROVERSY OVER AMNESTY
Controversy is also continuing over demands by settlers and rightwing and religious elements for an amnesty for the 26 alleged members of a Jewish terrorist underground now on trial or serving sentences for acts of violence against Arab civilians in the West Bank. Justice Minister Moshe Nissim said Friday that he didn’t think these demands constituted political interference in the judicial system. (Related story, P. 3.)