With the future of peace with the Palestinians thrown into question by a rash of closely spaced Hamas suicide bombings, Israel has imposed stringent security measures in an effort to stave off the wave of fundamentalist terror.
And in a departure from previous policy, Prime Minister Shimon Peres this week linked as Israeli redeployment in the West Bank town of Hebron scheduled for later this month to a demand that Palestine Liberation Organization officials revoke those portions of their charter that call for the destruction of Israel.
The redeployment, which in the past had been linked to the Palestinian leadership’s ability to combat terror,”will be examined in light of Palestinian fulfillment of obligations,” peres told reporters.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat, responding to Peres’ sharp calls for a crackdown on terror, said Monday that he was ready to cooperate fully with Israel and announced that he had outlawed the military wings of Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist groups in the self-rule areas.
Later that day, Palestinian security officials said they had arrested Mohammed Abu Wardeh, 28, of the West Bank town of Ramallah, whom they said was the “mastermind” behind the four suicide bombings of the past two weeks.
Wardeh acted under the instructions of handlers based in Damascus, according to Israel Television.
It remained unclear whether Wardeh would be turned over to Israel or face prosecution by Palestinian authorities.
In Israel, security forces adopted punitive measures Tuesday against the families of suicide bombers, sealing the homes of 11 terrorists, including that of Yehiya Ayash, who was killed in an explosion in Gaza in January.
Public Security Minister Moshe Shahal announced that Hamas institutions in eastern Jerusalem would be closed down.
In addition to the closure already imposed on the territories after the Feb.25 suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, Israeli officials began taking additional steps to control traffic into Israel from the territories.
Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, head of the Israel Defense Force’s central command, announced the imposition of a closure on some 460 Palestinian villages in the West Bank.
Speaking at a news briefing Tuesday, he said that some 1.2 million Palestinians were effectively under restrictive orders.
In a move directed at Israeli employers of low-paid Palestinian laborers, Biran also announced that Israelis would be prohibited from driving Palestinians into Israel in their own vehicles, and that the Egged and Dan bus cooperatives were barred from transporting any Palestinians into Israel.
Police also launched a campaign to identify and arrest Israelis found to be illegally employing Palestinians in their homes.
The wave of violence of the past two weeks has placed a question mark on the future of the peace process.
In Tel Aviv on Monday, demonstrators converged on the site of the suicide bombing in an outpouring of grief and anger.
After stormy protests the night before, protesters were kept under control Tuesday by a strong security presence, which kept the crowds behind police barricades to allow traffic to pass.
Some of the demonstrators lit memorial candles for the victims and scrawled anti-government slogans on sheets of paper at the site.
Groups of protesters intermittently burst out shouting, “Death to Arabs,” and “Peres, go home.”
A steady stream of people picked through the crowd, some stopping to look at the memorial candles and flowers laid at the site, others to stare silently at the stores with blown-out windows, curtains flapping in breeze.
The shouting of demonstrators was interspersed with the sound of drilling, as shopkeepers set to the repairing the damage.