JERUSALEM (Dec. 16)
Israeli Cabinet ministers convened for a special session Wednesday to discuss the security situation following the brutal murder this week of an Israeli border policeman kidnapped by Moslem fundamentalists.
The ministers declined to divulge what course of action the Cabinet had decided to take. But earlier in the day, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed his government would wage a relentless war against Hamas, the militant group that claimed responsibility for the abduction and murder of Sgt. Maj. Nissim Toledano.
“The world should not be surprised if this time we’ll have to take very tough measures, ” Rabin told reporters a day after Toledano’s bound body was found on a West Bank road north of Jerusalem. He had been stabbed repeatedly and strangled.
In fact, the crackdown on Hamas had already begun before the Cabinet meeting. Some 1,300 Hamas leaders and activists have been arrested since the kidnapping Sunday, and they are all under interrogation in prisons around the country.
Government officials said Hamas was now “the prime target in Israel’s battle against terrorism.”
Those under detention included two Hamas leaders from the Gaza Strip: Mahmoud a-Zahar, a lecturer at the Islamic College in Gaza, and Abdul Aziz Ghantisi.
Parallel intelligence work was being carried out in the territories, which remained sealed off from Israel proper Wednesday.
Tension remained high near the Israeli town of Lod, where Toledano was abducted early Sunday on his way to work.
Police units were beefed up after demonstrators, led by right-wing extremists from out of town, sought to attack Arab inhabitants of the town. Eleven people were arrested on suspicion of incitement to violence against Arabs.
Among those held were the rival leaders of two groups competing for the mantle of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the slain leader of the extremist Kach movement: Baruch Marzel of Kach and Binyamin Kahane of a splinter group called Kahane Chai.
Police reinforcements were also posted in neighboring Ramla, as well as in volatile areas of Jerusalem. But the nationwide stormy weather seemed to be keeping wound-be rowdies off the streets. By nightfall Wednesday, no attacks on Arabs had been reported.
Toledano’s funeral took place under pouring rain at the Haifa military cemetery. His family, now living in Lod, previously hailed from Tirat Carmel, near Haifa.
Over the open grave, as family members sobbed, Police Minister Moshe Shahal vowed in the name of the government to pursue the killers “to the ends of the Earth.”
Meanwhile, the time of Toledano’s death has become a factor in a brewing controversy over the government’s handling of the abduction.
A police pathological report indicates he was killed at least two hours after the expiration of an ultimatum delivered by his kidnappers.
The kidnappers set a deadline of 9 p.m. Sunday for an exchange of their hostage for the imprisoned Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who is serving a life sentence for two 1989 murders.
Police, who carried out the autopsy only after the family received rare halachic permission from a former chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, fixed the time of death at between 11 p.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday.
Government officials insisted that Rabin had been right to demand proof that Toledano was alive before entering into any negotiations with the kidnappers.
But critics say he waited too long to make the offer, letting hours go by without a reaction to the demands by the terrorists.
Although Cabinet ministers refused to divulge details of their meeting Wednesday, they said the decisions made would quickly become apparent.
Indications were that wholesale deportation would probably not be a measure to which the government would resort, despite the urging of Ariel Sharon and other opposition figures.
Sharon, a former Likud defense minister, called for all the detainees to be shipped across the borders “today.”
He also urged the creation of a “government of national emergency,” under Yitzhak Rabin, for the specific purpose of fighting terrorism. He was seconded in this proposal by Rafael Eitan, leader of the right-wing Tsomet party.
But opposition leader Yitzhak Shamir, in a radio interview from his home, dismissed the idea as unworkable, given the broad policy differences between Labor and Likud.
“We certainly need a different government,” said the former prime minister, accusing his successor, Robin, of kowtowing to the Arabs in the peace negotiations. But he added that a government of national emergency was not the solution.
Tourism Minister Uzi Baram, a Labor dove, urged publicly that the government open a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization as a way of “isolating” the rejectionist Hamas. But government officials said the prime minister remained firmly opposed to that course.
Police Minister Shahal, himself a dove who does not rule out the eventual need to talk to the PLO, said now is not the time to make such a decision. It would be interpreted, he said, as a sign of weakness.