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Arens Reaches out to Palestinians As PLO Urges Escalation of Intifada

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Defense Minister Moshe Arens’ first foray into the West Bank in search of Palestinian negotiating partners failed to yield an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Arens met Tuesday with the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Jalla and Beit Sahur, predominantly Christian Arab towns south of Jerusalem.

The mayors, all regarded as moderates, supported the idea of Palestinian elections in the territory, as proposed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

But they referred Arens to the PLO. They insisted it is “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians” and the party with which to implement the election plan.

The defense minister also met Tuesday with Jean-Claude Aime, a Middle East expert visiting Israel and the territories as an emissary of U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

Arens told him that his primary objectives are to achieve security, reduce the level of violence for the benefit of the local population and establish a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

His goals may be thwarted by the PLO, which said Wednesday that it would escalate the intifada in the territories. Bassam Abu Sharif, a close adviser of PLO chief Yasir Arafat, announced the plans at a news conference in Tunis, but refused to give any details.

Israel, meanwhile, has beefed up its forces for the “battle of the roads” in the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Force will increase its presence along key highways in the territory. There will be more patrols and more lookout posts to protect Israeli vehicles from attacks by rocks and gasoline bombs.

SETTLERS FAR FROM SATISFIED

Arens, who ordered the measures, has authorized Jewish settlers in Kiryat Arba and Ariel to organize civil guards to operate within the precincts of those West Bank towns.

He also agreed the government would pay the cost of reinforcing the windshields of settlers’ cars for protection against rock-throwers.

While welcoming those steps, the settlers are far from satisfied. They demand that the government crack down on local Palestinian leaders.

Specifically, the settlers seek the arrest of two of the most prominent Palestinian spokesmen, Faisal Husseini of East Jerusalem and Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University.

But if Arens complied, he would be in conflict with Israel’s declared policy of initiating talks with the local Palestinian leadership.

In other security developments, tensions increased in East Jerusalem, where Arab residents accused Israeli soldiers of parading naked on a rooftop, in a show of contempt for their sensibilities.

A resident of the Eizariya neighborhood took snapshots of two or three soldiers dancing nude at an observation post on the roof of an apartment building in the nearby village of Abu Dis.

The photos were turned over to Mohammed Miari, a Knesset member of the Progressive List for Peace, who passed them on to Israel Television. They were screened on the nightly news Tuesday.

The IDF said the soldiers’ conduct was “grave, but an exception.” It promised they would be tried by a military court.

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