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Sharon Embroiled in War of Words over Gaza and His New Apartment

Ariel Sharon, the outspoken Herut hardliner, is embroiled in another angry war of words with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He has also been criticized by Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem for demonstratively moving into an apartment in the Old City’s Moslem Quarter two weeks ago.

Sharon, who was defense minister during the war in Lebanon and is presently minister of commerce and industry, accused Peres Sunday night of creating a “worldwide panic” by his constant warnings of the demographic dangers to Israel by its continued rule over 1.5 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Addressing a Likud party meeting, Sharon also blasted Peres for proposing that the Gaza Strip be demilitarized.

Peres, who is Labor Party leader, responded Monday. Addressing high school students in Kiryat Gat, he denied proposing a one-sided withdrawal from Gaza.

He said that as part of peace negotiations with Jordan, the Palestinian question would have to be raised. In this context, he said, Israel should unilaterally propose disarming the Gaza Strip.

Referring to right-wing policies, Peres said, “When they talk of Gaza being an integral part of the Land of Israel, they mean incorporating both land and people. What do they want — another 650,000 Arabs?” Peres asked. “By the year 2000, the Arabs will form 50 percent of the country’s population.”

Sharon has no monopoly on wisdom in Lebanon, the foreign minister said in a reference to the Lebanon war, largely engineered by Sharon, which cost Israel several thousand casualties without achieving its objectives.

WRONG TIME AND PLACE

In Jerusalem, too, Sharon demonstrated a lack of wisdom, according to Peres. “Is this the time, and that the place, to go and live in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem?” he asked.

Mayor Kollek, also a Laborite, made the same point in a speech Monday to the City Council. While Sharon made clear his move was intended to encourage other Jews to live in the Moslem Quarter, Kollek said, “We do not aspire to integration, but rather to neighborly relations. Co-existence does not mean love, but rather neighborly relations with as few as possible disturbances,” the mayor declared.

Sharon’s housewarming and Chanukah party in his Moslem Quarter flat on the night of Dec. 15 is considered partly responsible for the outbreak of Arab rioting in East Jerusalem that followed.

Although Kollek at the time called the two days of rock-throwing and tire-burning the worst ever to hit the capital, he played down its importance in his address to the council Monday.

“What happened in East Jerusalem 10 days ago was child’s play,” he said. “There were no casualties. I don’t want to underplay the seriousness of the situation, but there was a lot of exaggeration and hysteria,” he said.

The disturbances in East Jerusalem coincided with some of the worst rioting in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In the opinion of many Israelis, the East Jerusalem disturbances were chiefly a carry-over from the riots in the territories, though possibly fueled by Sharon’s move.

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