JERUSALEM (Jul. 10)
West Bank settlers engaged in violent demonstrations over the weekend in reaction to last week’s slayings of an Israeli teen-ager and a member of the Israel Defense Force.
The demonstrations culminated in a tense standoff between Israeli security forces and settles from Kiryat Arba who sought to occupy apartments in a different suburb of Hebron.
In the wake of the violence, Hebron, the site of a bloody massacre of Palestinians by an Israeli settler in February, was placed under curfew through the weekend.
The unrest erupted as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organizations were set to begin negotiations in Cairo on Monday on the next phase of Palestinian autonomy.
Settlers blocked West Bank roads with burning tires and threw stones at Palestinian homes near Kiryat Arba last week after a 17-year-old girl from the settlement was killed by terrorists.
Sarit Prigal was killed July 7 near her Kiryat Arba home, outside of Hebron, when gunmen opened fire on her father’s car. The incident took place near the spot where Mordechai Lapid and his son, Shalom, were killed by Palestinian gunmen last December.
Prigal’s father, Abraham, and her 7-year-old brother, Nuriel, were lightly wounded by the gunfire.
No group has taken responsibility for the shooting.
In a second incident the same day, the body of Pvt. Aryeh Frankenthal, a 19-year-old tank driver with the Israel Defense Force, was found shot and stabbed to death in an abandoned house in an Arab village near the West Bank town of Ramaliah.
Frankenthal had been kidnapped a day earlier while hitching a ride from an army training center.
The Izz a-Din al-Kassam, a military faction of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, took responsibility for the killing.
As news of the two murders spread, a group of settlers descended on Hebron and began vandalizing Palestinian shops there.
‘ I HAVE NEVER KNOWN SUCH FEAR’
One 71-year-old Palestinian resident of Hebron said, “I have never known such fear. No one helps us, neither the PLO nor the U.N. And your (Israeli) soldiers do nothing, either.”
When Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, commander of the Israeli army’s central command, arrived in Kiryat Arba after Prigal’s death, a group of settlers there had to be restrained by troops from attacking him physically.
The settlers screamed insults at Biran, calling him “Traitor,” “Assassin, ” and “Collaborator.”
With none of the Kiryat Arba settlers attempting to control the crowd, Biran was forced to flee to safety.
Following the funerals of Prigal and Frankenthal last Friday, Jewish settlers occupied some 54 apartments in a Hebron suburb whose sale had been frozen when the Labor Party came to power in 1992 and which the government continues to refuse to hand over for Jewish occupancy.
Settlers have named the quarter Ashmoret Yitzhak, an acronym of the names of Israelis killed in the area by terrorists.
By Sunday, Israelis of all political stripes watched anxiously as scores of Kiryat Arba settlers continued their standoff with the IDF, which gave them until Monday to evacuate the apartment.
President Ezer Weizman appealed Sunday for a cooling of tempers and an avoidance of violence.
The IDF’s readiness to suspend action until Monday in the hope that the settlers would evacuate the apartments voluntarily was seen as a response to Weizman’s appeal.
Meanwhile, settler and right-wing anger turned against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Saturday, with demonstrators in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem burning portraits of him and of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
An angry Rabin told his Cabinet on Sunday that Biran’s attackers were not merely marginal elements among the Hebron settlers.
Cabinet ministers were unanimous that the settlers had to be remonved from the apartments, but left the technical details to the IDF.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu sought to distance himself from the extremist settlers, saying that those who referred to IDF officers as murderers and traitors were putting themselves beyond the pale of the nationalist camp.
As tensions mounted at the apartments Sunday, the settlers vowed they would not move from the Ashmoret Yitzhak quarter.
They said they would not use violence against the IDF, but some also swore they would not allow themselves to be removed alive from the buildings.