Assassination of Nablus Mayor Seen As a Setback for Israeli Policy

The assassination Sunday morning of zafer Al-Masi, the Israel-appointed Mayor of Nablus, was a serious setback for the Israeli policy of restoring municipal governance in the administered territories to Arab hands.

This was the assessment of analysts and Israeli officials as some 20,000 Palestinians from Israel, the territories and Jordan attended Al-Masri’s funeral Monday. (See separate story, P.2.)

Although the Nablus Town Council immediately elected Al-Masri’s deputy, Hafez Tukan, to replace him, hopes to install Arab mayors in other major West Bank towns rapidly faded.

Two candidates for mayor, in Ramallah and El Bireh, published announcements, to appear in the Tuesday editions of Arabic newspapers, that they would not run for office. The dropouts are Nadim Zaro, a former Mayor of Ramallah, and Walid Hammad, the candidate in El Bireh. Zaro said he would not seek the appointive office because free elections are the only way to elect mayors.

The Israeli authorities reject free elections for fear that candidates supportive of the Palestine Liberation Organization would win, as they did in the last free elections in 1976.

Hammad announced he would not run for the sake of “national unity.” But Shmuel Goren, Coordinator of Government Affairs in the administered territories, said on television Monday that the policy of appointing mayors would continue, after ascertaining that the appointees would enjoy broad public support.

Zaro and Hammad are both considered pro-Jordan. The one candidate who did not back out, Jamil Tarifeh, is known to be a supporter of El Fatah, the PLO wing led by Yasir Arafat. According to some observers, this meant that Arafat is determined to fight back against the rejectionists who are believed responsible for the murder of Al-Masri.

Goren noted in his TV interview that he recently had warned Al-Masri that he could be the target of a political assassination. But the mayor refused protection, saying he enjoyed the support of all Nablus residents.

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