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Israeli Arab Leaders Are Planning Meetings with Palestinians in Tunis

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For the first time ever, a delegation of senior Israeli Arab leaders is making a trip to Tunis, where the Palestine Liberation Organization is headquartered.

While the official purpose of the trip is to attend an annual festival in the ancient Tunisian city of Carthage, it is clear that the delegation will be meeting with senior Palestinian leaders.

Dr. Ahmed Tibi, a spokesman for the group, refused to disclose whom the delegation would meet with, but insisted that it would not violate Israel’s law forbidding unauthorized meetings with representatives of Palestinian terrorist organizations.

The delegation, which leaves for Tunis on Friday, is being escorted by a legal adviser, Osama Zeidan, to make sure that whatever meetings take place will be within the law. One way to do it is to hold meetings within neutral forums, such as news conferences.

The delegation comprises representatives of Israel’s three major Arab parties: Knesset member Hashem Mahamid of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, known popularly as the Hadash Communists; Mohammad Zeidan of the Arab Democratic Party, mayor of the West Bank village of Kafr Manda; Ahmed Darwish of the Progressive List for Peace; as well as Tibi, a gynecologist who has served as a go-between for the Israeli authorities and the PLO in a number of secret missions.

Darwish is the brother of Mahmoud Darwish, a senior adviser to PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

The visit is seen here as an attempt to challenge the Rabin government to make good on its promise of better treatment for Israel’s Arabs, made to the Arab parties in return for their support for the new coalition.

Last week, Arab members of Knesset tried to intervene in resolving the siege at A-Najah University in Nablus. Now it appears they are trying to establish a role for themselves in the Middle East peace process.

Tibi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that members of the delegation did not intend to challenge anyone. But he added: “In the near future, you will see many Israeli Arabs meeting various diplomats in different parts of the world.”

INCIDENT IN DELEGATE’S HOME

In the administered territories, meanwhile, the Israel Defense Force may have detonated a political minefield when it burst into the home of a member of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks during a search for terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

During a manhunt in the luxurious Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, soldiers apparently broke into the home of delegation member Zakaria al-Agha at 4 a.m., awakening his family.

According to a complaint that Agha filed with Israel’s Civil Administration and with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, the soldiers also locked him in a room when he told the commanding officer that as a member of the Palestinian delegation, he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

Agha then said he made phone calls to Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini and to Knesset member Dedi Zucker of the left-wing Meretz bloc.

When Zucker insisted on talking on the phone with the officer, the soldiers reportedly left the house and refused to give any explanation for the intrusion.

Zucker sent a protest cable to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, saying: “Apart from the fact that this is inexplicable and heartless harassment, this is also an act of political significance. A member of a delegation which holds talks with Israel cannot be subject to arbitrary decisions, threats and intimidation.”

An army spokesman said that within the framework of a complex military activity in Gaza, the commander in charge decided to set up a lookout post on top of the highest building in the area, which happened to be the Agha building. The soldiers left three hours later, after they had completed their observations, the army said.

Israeli forces had somewhat more success Wednesday in the West Bank, when a border police force killed a senior terrorist in the Jenin area.

The terrorist was identified as Mahmoud Abu-Hassan, known as Zarini, deputy commander of the so-called Black Panther squad in Jenin.

Considered one of the most dangerous terrorists in the area, he was allegedly responsible for the deaths of scores of Palestinians suspected of having collaborated with the Israeli authorities. He was also said to be active in attacks against IDF targets.

At age 23, he has been on the most-wanted list for the past three years.

According to military sources, the border police force encountered a group of three terrorists, who were apparently on their way to a sabotage attack. Zarini was killed, while the other two managed to escape.

Zarini’s commander, Awad Kamel, is still at large. But several other members of the Black Panther group have turned themselves in, the army reported.

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