Israeli-palestinian Talks Proceed Despite Brutal Terrorist Attacks

Israelis and Palestinians stepped up negotiations on a number of issues this week despite the bitterness and rage felt here in the wake of an upsurge of terrorist attacks.

On Sunday, a day after the brutal murder of two Israeli hikers in the Judean Desert, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin flew to Tunis, where he was to lead the Israeli delegation to a new round of multilateral talks on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

On Monday, Police Minister Moshe Shahal and Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini met here to discuss ways to allow Palestinians from the administered territories access to Jerusalem.

And later this week, Israelis and Palestinians were scheduled to meet in Cairo and the Sinai border town of Taba to discuss the implementation of the self-rule accord signed last month in Washington by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It was a difficult and tense situation. On the one hand, political leaders were moving fast to implement the Palestinian autonomy agreement.

On the other hand, Palestinian radicals were doing their utmost to teach Israel in the hardest and most painful way that negotiations do not mean an end to terrorism.

The double murder on Saturday of two hikers was particularly painful because it took place at a time when Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating on several fronts and also because it took place in Jerusalem’s backyard.

Wadi Kelt, the site of the gruesome murders, is located near the West Bank town of Jericho. It is one of the most impressive spots in the Judean Desert, about a 20-minute drive from Jerusalem. For years it has been a popular hiking area, particularly for Jerusalemites, but also for other visitors from throughout the country.

Dror Forer, 25, and his friend Eran Bachar, 23, were brutally murdered as they were swimming in a natural pool.

Five attackers stabbed the two young Israelis, fired shots at one of them, and then cut their throats and bashed in their skulls with stones.

Other hikers witnessed the attack from atop a ridge but were unable to help.

FUNDAMENTALISTS TAKE CREDIT

The murderers fled the scene in two cars they had stolen form a nearby parking lot. One car was later found in Jericho, but no suspects were found immediately.

The Islamic Jihad fundamentalist movement took responsibility for the savage attack.

The murder took place just a few hours after the Israeli navy managed to foil another terrorist attack — this one from the sea.

A lone man riding a jet ski off the coast near the Israeli-Lebanese border was picked up by Israeli radar and night-vision equipment early Saturday morning.

The land-based operators warned an Israeli gunboat patrolling the coast. The gunboat gave chase and opened fire on the terrorist after firing warning shots.

The attacker was hit and blown out of the water scooter. The scooter sped on another 30 yards before coming to a stop. It was later found to be carrying Kalachnikov rifles, pistols, hand grenades, knives and ammunition.

The small, very fast, low-profile jet ski was the first of its type ever used by a terrorist organization.

The Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group hotly opposed to the Israeli-PLO accord, later claimed responsibility for the operation.

The seaborne attempt came 36 hours after Islamic Jihad guerrillas slightly wounded an Israel Defense Force soldier north of Israel’s border with Lebanon.

Two other IDF soldiers were lightly wounded Sunday morning when their patrol was ambushed in the security zone.

IRAN INFLAMING SITUATION

The latest incidents — particularly the Wadi Kelt murders — increased fears here that there would be additional terrorist attacks by opponents of the peace process.

Israeli officials blamed Iran for inflaming the situation in the territories and in southern Lebanon, in an effort to jeopardize the peace talks.

The Wadi Kelt attack heightened security concerns among residents of Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley.

On Monday, Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur visited the settlement of Na’ama, located north of Jericho, and assured the residents that no Jewish settlement would have to live under the “flag of the PLO” or, for that matter, under the flag of “any Arab country.”

Gur, a retired general, stressed that even after Palestinian self-rule goes into effect, Israel will be responsible for the security of the Jewish settlers in the Jordan Valley.

Despite the ongoing terrorist attacks, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are continuing.

Deputy Foreign Minister Beilin, before leaving for Tunis to discuss the Palestinian refugee situation, made it clear that Israel would not agree to Palestinian demands that the multilateral working group discuss the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, including those who fled in 1948.

Under the terms of the Israeli-PLO accord, the future of the 1948 refugees will not be addressed until the final-stage negotiations on the permanent status of the territories, which are scheduled to begin no later than December 1995.

Israel already allows at least 2,000 Palestinians to return to the territories each year, but the Palestinians want to expand that number greatly.

Beilin arrived in Tunis just as the PLO’s Central Council was debating whether to approve the accord with Israel. The 107-member council is the steering committee for the larger Palestine National Council, the so-called Palestinian parliament-in-exile.

For the first time ever, Israeli reporters were allowed to attend the council’s proceedings, which have usually been held behind closed doors.

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