JERUSALEM (Oct. 16)
Despite the tragic conclusion to last week’s attempt to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Cpl. Nachshon Waxman from his Hamas captors, the Israeli Cabinet has decided to persevere in its peace initiative with the Palestinians.
Following what was the worst crisis in Israeli-Palestinian dealings since the start of Palestinian self-rule in May, the Cabinet agreed Sunday to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and to lift a closure that had been imposed on the Gaza Strip last week.
Talks between Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization negotiators over future Palestinian elections were scheduled to resume in Cairo on Tuesday.
The night before the Cabinet session, tens of thousands of Israelis attended the funeral of Waxman, who was killed by his Hamas captors during a commando raid launched by the Israel Defense Force last Friday evening.
The funeral marked the end to a weeklong ordeal that began with Waxman’s kidnapping Oct. 9 and had gripped the entire nation.
The streets leading up to Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery flowed with people from all segments of society — secular, religious and Waxman’s fellow soldiers — who came to pay their last respects.
Waxman, 19, had lived in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. He was the third of five children of Yehuda and Esther Waxman, Orthodox emigrants from the United States.
WAXMAN’S FATHER BACKS RABIN
On Sunday, burial services were held in the military section of the Kiryat Shaul cemetery for Capt. Nir Poraz of Ramat Hasharon. Poraz was killed last Friday while leading the commando unit that tried to storm the West Bank safe house in which Waxman was being held.
Yehuda Waxman extended his condolences to Poraz’s grieving family. “My heart is heavy knowing that Nir Poraz fell in the operation to save my son,” he told Israel Radio. “This additional loss has shaken me terribly. I send my deepest condolences to his family. May they be strong.”
When asked if he thought his son might still be alive had the government pursued contacts to negotiate with Hamas rather than storm the captors’ hideout in the West Bank village of Bir Nabala, Waxman said, “Rabin is the one making the decisions. He used his judgment based on the information he had available.”
With thousands attending the funeral, the 23-year-old Poraz was buried beside his father, Maoz, a pilot killed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Poraz was due to complete his military service in a few days.
Twelve other soldiers were wounded, one moderately and the others lightly, in last Friday’s rescue attempt.
In addition, three members of Hamas were killed in the commando raid. They were identified as Salah Jadalla of Gaza, Taisir Natshe of Jerusalem and Abdel Kareem Bader of Al Ram in the West Bank. Two Hamas accomplices were captured.
At Sunday’s weekly session, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak briefed the Cabinet on the details of last Friday’s operation.
After the Israeli government had maintained for most of last week that Waxman was being held in Gaza, it was only last Friday morning that Rabin was informed by the Shin Bet security service that the Israeli soldier was in Bir Nabala, some two miles from Waxman’s home in Jerusalem.
The thrust of Israeli government consideration then reportedly switched from the option of accepting the Hamas demand to swap Waxman for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, to the planning of a military assault.
The rescue attempt received wall-to-wall support from both government and opposition spokesmen. A few, however, expressed reservations that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had made this important decision alone.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet agreed to resume the negotiations with the PLO that had been suspended last week following the announcement of the kidnapping.
At the same time, the Cabinet called on PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to take serious measures against terrorist elements in the areas under Palestinian control.
Opposition members who had supported the Rabin’s decision to take action last Friday came out strongly against the move to end the closure of the Gaza Strip.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said that as long as attacks are launched against Israelis within Israel’s borders, an extended closure should be clamped down on Gaza and a fence built around the strip’s perimeters.
Meanwhile in Gaza, tensions remained high between Palestinian police and Hamas activists in the wake of the widespread arrests of Hamas activists over the weekend. As a result, thousands of Hamas supporters staged demonstrations.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)