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As Peace Talks Take Shape, Arab Violence Hits a Frenzy

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An upsurge of Arab violence in the last few days seems to have confirmed the dire predictions of security experts that the closer the peace process nears fruition, the more desperate extremists on both sides will be to frustrate it.

The latest wave of killings began only days before U.S. Secretary of State James Baker arrived in the Middle East on his eighth peace mission this year.

Two Israel Defense Force soldiers were killed and 11 injured last Friday when a West Bank Arab drove a stolen van into their midst at a shelter for hitchhikers outside Tel Aviv.

The soldiers were buried Sunday, as Baker was landing in Egypt. He has since visited Jordan and Syria and is due in Israel on Wednesday. He is determined to get the agreement of all parties to attend a regional peace conference under U.S.-Soviet auspices before the end of this month.

On Tuesday, a Druse building contractor was shot to death when he stopped to pick up workers at Zabuba village in the northern West Bank. It was one of the rising number of intifadarelated incidents in which firearms have been used.

The coldblooded killing also was typical of the methods employed by rejectionists, who hope to derail peace efforts by sowing fear and hatred.

The assailants, carrying concealed weapons, gunned down 32-year-old Jamal Hasoon from the Druse village of Daliat al-Carmel, near Haifa.

Zabuba is a hamlet well off the main road, midway between the West Bank town of Jenin and Megiddo junction in Israel proper.

Hasoon, accompanied by another Druse, arrived there shortly before 7 a.m. The attackers, apparently familiar with their movements, were waiting and caught the two by surprise.

They fled before soldiers arrived. The village was placed under curfew.

Jenin, the nearest urban center, has been relatively quiet since the Palestinian uprising in the territories began in December 1987. Most of the residents rely on jobs in northern Israel.

But the town recently has become a hotbed of intifada activity. Armed attacks on soldiers and civilians have increased. While some of the gunmen have been captured, others remain at large, security sources said.

CUTTING TIES TO TERRITORIES

Druse are targeted because of their warm relationship with Israel since its founding. About 70,000 of them live in 18 villages in the northern part of the country.

Although ethnically Arab, they belong to a sect that split from Islam in the 11th century. Apart from the small Circassian community–Moslem but not Arab — the Druse are the only minority subject to compulsory military service in the IDF. This is another source of friction with the much larger Moslem Arab minority.

Many Druse share with the Arabs a penchant for vengeful blood feuds. Security forces expressed concern that the family of the murdered man may try to take the law into its own hands. The family has already demanded the death penalty for the killers when they are caught.

In response, Justice Minister Dan Meridor said Tuesday that he opposed capital punishment.

Meanwhile, a committee of Druse mayors issued a statement Tuesday urging the Druse community to cut all ties with the administered territories. They also pledged that the murder would not deter the Druse community in Israel from continued cooperation with its Jewish neighbors.

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