Amid vigorous diplomatic efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians during the sixth consecutive day of unrest following Friday’s massacre at a Hebron mosque.
A 17-year-old Palestinian youth was killed by army gunfire in Hebron on Wednesday in a new round of violence that erupted following the lifting of a curfew that had been in force there since Friday’s attack at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where a Jewish settler killed at least 40 Palestinians.
Israel Defense Fore troops killed a second Palestinian youth in Jericho. Residents there reportedly described Wednesday’s violence as the worst to take place in the town in years.
There were other violent clashes between Palestinians and the IDF in other towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Hebron killing was seen as especially grave, not only because it was the site of Friday’s massacre, but also because it took place in the presence of a leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
Erekat was in Washington last week for talks with Israel. But he was recalled Monday, along with the other Arab delegation heads, to register their grief and outrage following Friday’s killings.
President Clinton and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher have both said publicity that they hope and believe the talks can be restarted, and vigorous behind-the-scenes diplomacy is under way to achieve that goal.
But it Jerusalem, Israeli officials are less optimistic. They think that the leadership of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat is more precarious than ever. Arafat is facing a rising tide of anger and resentment form hard-liners within the PLO, who cite Friday’s massacre as proof that the Israelis cannot be trusted.
In an effort to get the negotiations restarted with a show of good will, Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday, with the release of 300 more promised for later in the week.
Government officials also announced that Israel would pay compensation to families of those killed during the attack in Hebron on Friday, and to the wounded.
About $1,700 will be paid as an advance to bereaved families, with the size of subsequent payments to be determined by the size of the victim’s family. The wounded will receive lesser sums. The compensation reportedly was not as large as government payments to Israeli victims of Arab violence.
PLO leaders denounced these moves as too little and too late to make up for Friday’s killings.
The PLO has been demanding wider concessions from Israel before resuming negotiations on implementing Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the west Bank town of Jericho.
Among its demands, the PLO has been calling on Israel to disarm all Jewish settlers, to end the expansion of settlements and the creation of new ones in the territories and to dismantle settlements where anti-Arab extremism runs highest.
In Israel, meanwhile, the atmosphere further darkened midweem following the fatal shooting by the IDF of a Jewish settler from Ariel, David Beracha, late Tuesday night.
Beracha’s car was shot at from a roadblock and from motorized patrols as he sped along the Trans-Samaria Highway. Which links Ariel and Tel Aviv. He was taking his wife for a kidney treatment at a hospital in Petach Tikvah. His wife, Ravit, suffered medium injuries.
Ravit later denied claims that her husband has opened fire at a roadblock.
The shooting was the second on the same road his week. On Sunday night, another vehicle was short at, but there were no casualties.
The two incidents reflect the highly charged state of alert throughout the territories, among both soldiers and civilians, in the wake of the Hebron massacre.
Security officials at Jewish settlements in the West Bank have been formally warned by the prime minister’s terrorism adviser that an attempt by Palestinians to stage a mass attack on or near a settlement is considered likely in revenge for the massacre.
The army and police, mean while, are moving to implement the series of crackdown measures taken by the Cabinet earlier in the week against Kach and Kahane Chai, two militantly anti-Arab groups inspired by the teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
On Wednesday evening, the army announced the capture of Eyal Noked, the second of five Kach activists against whom administrative detention orders have been issued.
There others, including the well-known Hebron figure Baruch Merzel, are still on the run.
Police Minister Moshe Shahal said Tuesday that up to 100 other extremists would have their army-issue weapons confiscated and their gun licenses revoked.
There is no evidence, however, of any softening in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s opposition to the demand raised by several dovish Cabinet ministers that Jewish settlements inside Hebron be dismantled.
The three Hebron settlement sites – at Avraham Avinu Synagogue, Tel Romeida and Beit Hadassah – are home to 42 Jewish families.