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Israel Puts Brakes on Pullback After Palestinians Attack Soldier

Implementation of the Wye agreement has hit another roadblock.

Israel announced Wednesday that it is suspending all further West Bank redeployments called for under the agreement until the Palestinian Authority complies with a list of Israeli demands.

Among the demands is that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat back off recent promises to declare statehood next May.

Israel’s announcement came just hours after Palestinian demonstrators severely beat an Israeli soldier near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

While the United States condemned the attack, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the redeployment is an obligation and “should be implemented as signed.”

The Palestinian Authority rejected the Israeli decision and blamed Israel for instigating the violence.

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had urged President Clinton in a letter to object publicly to Palestinian violations of the accord.

“There is a danger to the peace process if the violations continue,” the letter said, according to Netanyahu spokesman David Bar-Illan.

The Wye accord, signed in Washington in late October, called for Israel to transfer an additional 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for concrete actions by the Palestinians on security issues.

Israel turned over 9 percent of West Bank land to Palestinian control last month, and was slated to transfer another 4 percent by early January.

The decision to delay the pullback came less than two weeks before Clinton’s scheduled visit to Israel and the Palestinian self-rule areas. During his visit, Clinton is slated to address the Palestine National Council, which will be convening to annul the anti-Israel clauses in the Palestinian Covenant.

U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross is expected to visit the region in the coming days in an effort to ease the tensions in advance of the president’s trip.

The Clinton administration is concerned that Netanyahu is looking for excuses to avoid any further redeployments, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported, citing what it called “credible sources in Washington.”

Bar-Illan said that in the letter to Clinton, dated Monday, the premier noted “four major areas of violations” of the Wye accord, including:

Palestinian plans to unilaterally declare statehood next year;

Anti-Israel incitement in statements by Palestinian officials;

The Palestinian Authority’s position in an ongoing dispute over the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails; and

Statements by Palestinian officials regarding how the Palestinian National Council will deal with anti-Israel clauses in the Palestinian Covenant at a Dec. 14 meeting that Clinton is scheduled to attend.

The dispute over the prisoner releases fueled Wednesday’s violence in Ramallah. Under the Wye accord, Israel agreed to free some 750 Palestinian prisoners. Of the 250 freed in the first batch, most were serving time for criminal offenses. The Palestinians were outraged that more political prisoners were not released.

Israel has refused to release any prisoners that have Jewish blood on their hands and, on Wednesday, Israel demanded that the Palestinian Authority acknowledge that Israel did not commit to releasing terrorists as part of the Wye accord.

Israel also called on the self-rule government to stop incitement against Israel and to punish those responsible for the disturbances.

Israeli officials said Wednesday’s announcement was prompted in part by an outbreak of violence that day near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinian protesters after the demonstrators beat two Israelis, one of them a soldier, and set fire to their car.

The protesters were demanding the release of some 2,500 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

In an assault captured by news cameras, the angry crowd began pelting the car with stones and smashing its windows. The driver ran off after a large rock struck him in the face.

The soldier was then dragged from the car and beaten for close to a minute before he ran off, his head bleeding.

As the attack took place, some in the crowd shouted “Yahudi, Yahudi” — the Arabic word for Jew.

In a separate incident, an Arab street-cleaner was murdered Wednesday morning in the mixed Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. Police believe the assailant was a Jewish right-wing extremist.

During the funeral of Osama Natche, a father of six, disturbances and rock- throwing broke out in eastern Jerusalem. A number of Palestinians were detained.

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