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Violence in Territories Reminiscent of Intifada

Violence gripped both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank this week in a manner reminiscent of the intifada, which began six years ago, and further dimmed the prospects for peace.

Less than two weeks before the Israeli army is scheduled to begin withdrawing from Gaza, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas called for a strike to demonstrate unity.

Jewish settlers announced plans to double the number of settlements, saying this would demonstrate their determination to resist the government’s policy of creating a Palestinian autonomous entity that would have power over the land.

The week witnessed the most serious unrest in the territories since the Sept. 13 signing of the Israel-PLO self-rule accord.

On Wednesday, Palestinians opened fire on a car stalled by the side of a road near the West Bank town of Ramallah, killing a 24-year-old pregnant kindergarten teacher and wounding three other Israeli occupants of the car.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was in Brussels on Wednesday for meetings with European Community leaders, said the government would continue to pursue the peace process despite the latest ambush.

“It is clear to me that every incident like this hurts and also damages the belief of many in Israel that peace is possible,” he told Israel Radio.

“But at the same time, I think we have to continue” with the negotiations for implementing the Palestinian self-rule accord.

Members of Izz a-Din al-Kassam, a military faction of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the teacher’s death.

In a statement distributed Wednesday in Gaza several hours after the ambush, the faction said the attack was the first of five it was planning in retaliation for the recent killings of several of their leaders by Israeli forces.

Last Friday, Israeli soldiers killed Khaled Zayir, the senior leader of the al-Kassam faction.

Zayir’s death came two days after Israeli soldiers killed Imad Akkel, another founding commander of the faction.

On Sunday, Israeli troops in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip killed Ahmed Abu al-Reesh, a member of the Fatah Hawks, a member organization of the PLO that is violently opposed to the self-rule accord.

The woman killed in Wednesday’s attack, Shalva Uzana of Hadera, was buried in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.

The funeral passed without incident, but afterwards, mourners and others protested at key points in the city.

RABIN CALLED A ‘TRAITOR’

In Jerusalem and throughout West Bank settlements, Israelis reacted not only against the Palestinians but also against the Israeli government, the army and the media for the absence of firm action against the terrorists.

They held torches and carried banners — among them one reading “Rabin — Traitor” and showing a large photograph of the prime minister draped in a kaffiyeh.

The Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip announced Wednesday that it planned to halt all Arab traffic on roads throughout the administered territories on Thursday.

“If we cannot travel safely on the roads, we will make certain the Palestinians cannot travel freely,” the group announced Wednesday after the ambush-killing.

Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair has said that assurance of security in the territories is vested in the IDF and that actions announced by the settlers were illegal.

The settlers group also announced they would speed up establishment of a so-called “Hashomer” (“watchman” or “guard”) West Bank Jewish defense force.

Settlement leaders, however, also issued a call to their ranks to avoid indiscriminate attacks on innocent Palestinians — which have taken place in the past after terrorist attacks.

The council said it intended to create 130 new settlements. “Operation Duplication” provides for every settlement in the territories to set up — as a symbolic rather than a practical act — another settlement one kilometer away, on state-owned land throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

In Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was attending a NATO meeting, issued an appeal to contain the violence.

“The message I would send to the parties is the need for discipline, the need to exercise maximum restraint,” he told reporters Wednesday.

“I would urge all parties to take every action to try to ensure that the enemies of the peace process” fail, he said.

Christopher was scheduled to travel to the Middle East this weekend to press for more advances in the peace process.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem.)

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