Palestinians and IDF Continue Standoff on Eve of Baker Visit

The tense standoff at A-Najah University in Nablus continued Thursday, with the Israel Defense Force maintaining a cordon around the campus to prevent students from leaving without interrogation and body search.

The army also turned back supplies of food and water sent to the beleaguered students.

The heated situation began Tuesday afternoon, during student elections on campus, when the IDF received information that armed Palestinians, wanted by security forces, were inside the campus.

It was the first test of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government in the territories and comes on the eve of a visit here by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who is eager to push forward the Middle East peace talks.

The IDF was still declaring the university area a “closed military area,” effectively barring journalists from entering to cover events there.

Israeli and foreign journalists have been forced to limit their coverage to bland statements by IDF spokespersons and emotional telephone reports from Nablus residents and from East Jerusalem Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini, who has set up “situation rooms” in Nablus and Jerusalem.

Israeli defense establishment officials say that between 1,000 and 1,500 students are inside the campus and include an estimated 10 or so wanted terrorists with firearms.

To complaints that the students are now running out of food, Israeli army spokespersons respond by saying: “They are all free to leave whenever they like. But they must first submit to interrogation for identification, and a search for weapons. Not all will necessarily be interrogated, but we will chose who to stop.”

RABIN EXPRESSES REGRET

Student spokespersons put the number of students on campus as about 4,000, and say they will not leave while the threat of search and interrogation hangs over them.

Husseini said the IDF blockade of the university could hardly be called a good start to what newly installed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has promised will be accelerated and continuous peace talks.

Rabin himself implicitly criticized the previous Likud government and the military authorities for allowing the present situation to arise.

In a television interview Wednesday, Rabin said, “I am very sorry about the combination of circumstances. I did not decide to hold student council elections at A-Najah University. I do not know who determined this, or why,” he said.

The new prime minister said that even as late as Wednesday morning, “I still did not know that such elections were being conducted. Whoever determined these elections should have been prepared for them. They should have examined those entering — not those leaving.”

Meanwhile, the IDF imposed a curfew on the Yibna refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, after escalation in factional fighting among Palestinians.

Some 1,000 supporters of the main Fatah branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization raided a mosque in the camp, where supporters of the Moslem fundamentalist group Hamas fired on the intruders.

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