As Death Toll Mounts in Hebron, Rabin Adamant on Peace Venture

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is pressing ahead with the peace process despite mounting violence that has left five Israelis dead in less than a week.

Some 18 Israelis and 34 Palestinians have been killed since Israel and the PLO signed their accord on Sept. 13.

The death toll rose Monday, when an Israeli man and his 22-year-old son were shot dead, and three younger siblings wounded, in an ambush by Palestinian Arabs outside the West Bank town of Hebron.

Two other Israelis were reported injured Monday in a firebomb attack on a bus in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.

The two incidents occurred a day after a terrorist from the Gaza Strip forced his way onto an Israeli bus and opened fire on the passengers, killing one of them before being shot to death himself.

Rabin told reporters he was sure that the purpose of the killers was to kill the peace process.

“They have just one goal,” he said, “to create a chain of events that will bring the negotations to an end.”

But the prime minister said he was equally sure that an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization on implementing autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho would be reached.

The prime minister said there is a tacit agreement between Israel and the PLO that a delay of two or three weeks will not hurt the overall implementation of the autonomy accord.

This would mark a reversal by the PLO, which as recently as last weekend pronounced it was opposed to any delay in the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and Jericho, which had been slated to begin Dec. 13.

CALLS FOR U.S. INTERVENTION

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was reported to have asked U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during a meeting Monday in the Jordanian capital of Amman to intervene to ensure that Israeli forces begin the pullback on schedule.

The PLO was also reported to have called on the United States to intervene in the talks under way in Cairo to implement the autonomy accord, which were said to be at an impasse.

Likewise, Jordan’s King Hussein was reported to have told Christopher in Amman on Monday that the United States should step up its role in the peace process and should pressure Israel to be more flexible in its negotiations.

But the American secretary of state was said to be reluctant to intervene unless he received a similar request from Jerusalem.

Christopher arrived in Amman after meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez Assad. The secretary has been pressing Assad to resume peace talks with Israel, and all indications were that those talks would indeed reconvene at the end of January.

Returning to Jerusalem from his talks in Damascus and Amman, Christopher took an opportunity Monday to condemn the recent spate of terrorist attacks against Israelis.

“This killing must stop. We must try to grasp this opportunity and not let the peace process be stopped,” he said.

Monday’s attack in Hebron was followed by violent demonstrations by Jewish settlers at the site and elsewhere in the West Bank.

The attack followed the killing Sunday of a Arab man by Jewish settlers in Hebron.

Seven settlers were arrested and ordered held in custody for that incident and the shooting of five other Arabs in Hebron last weekend.

The settlers said they were acting in self-defense and charged the government had abandoned them in pursuit of the peace process.

SETTLERS’ PLAN CALLED ‘SEDITIOUS’

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres acknowledged Monday that the biggest sticking point in the Israeli-PLO talks on implementing Palestinian autonomy is security for the Jewish settlements, which are dispersed throughout the territories.

Addressing another sticking point, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel would not give up control of border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan, and between Gaza and Egypt. But he did hold open the option of a Palestinian presence at some of the sensitive sites.

Members of the opposition Likud party are continuing to attack the agreement with the PLO, charging that it has triggered a rise in violence.

The opposition also attacked remarks made Sunday by Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, who called the council representing the 130,000 settlers in the territories “seditious.”

Ben-Yair made the comment in an opinion to Rabin on a new plan by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to set up a volunteer organization to defend the settlements. He had already ruled such a plan was illegal.

Peres stood by the attorney general’s remarks, saying, “What he declares is the position of the government.”

Meanwhile, the foreign minister may confer with Arafat later this week in Spain, during a meeting of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Earlier there had been talk that Rabin would meet with Arafat before the Dec. 13 deadline for the start of the Israeli troop withdrawal.

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