Amid Violence in Territories, an Increase in the Call to Arms

As violence in the Gaza Strip intensifies, Israel’s police commissioner has made the controversial suggestion that Israelis carry weapons.

Police Commissioner Rafi Peled recommended that Israeli civilians carry weapons in dangerous areas when no security forces are nearby.

He made the suggestion Monday at an awards ceremony honoring civilians who had thwarted attempted terrorist attacks.

Another contentious suggestion has surfaced in the Knesset, where a member last week called for Jews to shoot Palestinian policemen once a Palestinian police force is established in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Under the terms of the self-rule accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was signed in Washington in September, a Palestinian police force is scheduled to begin taking responsibility for Gaza and Jericho on Dec. 13.

Moledet party leader Rehavam Ze’evi said last week in a Knesset debate on security that he would open fire at any armed Palestinian policeman who stopped him in the territories.

“Should I be stopped for identification or any other reason by one of these armed and uniformed Fatah people, I will shoot him in self-defense before he identifies me and decides to do the same to me,” he said.

“I expect any Jew in similar circumstances to act as I do,” Ze’evi said.

His comments led the Knesset committee to discuss whether to limit Ze’evi’s parliamentary immunity and restrict his freedom of movement in the territories.

Labor Party Knesset member Yael Dayan said she had filed a police complaint against Ze’evi, according to an Israel Radio report.

The continuing violence led Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to warn at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the war against terrorism will not abate, despite the ongoing talks with the PLO in Cairo for implementing the self-rule accord.

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Rabin also indicated that Israel would release Palestinian prisoners, but only in return for information about Israelis missing in action.

Although Israel released more than 600 prisoners in October, PLO negotiators are demanding the release of what they say are an additional 10,000 prisoners still in Israeli jails.

Environment Minister Yossi Sarid said gradual releases would occur in the near future but it was too early to discuss precise numbers or dates.

Members of the opposition reacted to the violence by bringing a no-confidence motion against the government on Monday.

It was the 34th effort by the opposition to topple the Labor-led government since it took office in the summer of 1992.

But the governing coalition shrugged off the motion by a 48-38 vote, with three abstentions.

The fervently religious Shas party and United Torah Judaism bloc abstained, giving the governing parties and their Arab allies a solid majority.

The Knesset debate centered on the violence in the territories and on the government’s agreement — under the terms of the self-rule accord — for the creation of a strong Palestinian police force in Gaza and Jericho.

Health Minister Haim Ramon, speaking for the government during the debate, called on Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to join the government in supporting the self-rule accord — on the clear understanding that if it does not work well, the Israeli-PLO agreement will effectively be voided.

The Israeli public’s support for the accord has eroded as unrest in the territories continues.

Palestinian support has also been affected, as outright public protests appear to be spreading.

During the funeral Monday for Ahmed Abu al-Reesh, a member of the Fatah Hawks, thousands of Palestinians joined the funeral procession, many shouting slogans of protest.

Reesh was killed Sunday in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis by an undercover Israeli unit as he stood with other members of the Hawks group, which does not support the PLO’s accord with Israel.

Once a fugitive, Reesh had turned himself in two weeks ago and was released by the Israeli army. Reesh reportedly had been a bystander at a shootout between Israeli security forces and two wanted men who subsequently fled the scene.

Members of the Fatah Hawks opened fire at an Israeli army base in Khan Yunis, saying that they were resuming attacks against Israelis in retaliation for the killing of Reesh.

Also Monday, the Israel Defense Force captured a leader of the Fatah Hawks, which led Palestinian leaders to call for a three-day strike.

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