Israel issues ultimatum to Palestinians

JERUSALEM, Oct. 18 (JTA) — As Israel buried and mourned slain Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi, the government has delivered an ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority.

Using words similar to those employed by President Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States, the Cabinet issued a statement hours after Ze’evi was assassinated Wednesday in a Jerusalem hotel by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical group that is part of the PLO.

“There can be no compromise with terror. It must be eradicated, without distinction between its perpetrators and those who harbor them,” the statement said.

In a challenge to the Palestinian Authority, the statement said, “The time for words has ended, and the time for deeds has come.”

According to media reports, Israeli intelligence services have identified the killers and those who sent them, and has passed the information to the Palestinian Authority. The Cabinet demanded their extradition, though Palestinian spokesmen refused.

“Failure to meet these demands, which are grounded in signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, will leave us with no choice but to view the Palestinian Authority as an entity supporting and sponsoring terror, and to act accordingly,” the Cabinet said.

The statement was left vague in an apparent attempt to leave Israel maneuvering room should the Palestinian Authority not turn over the terrorists. The Palestinian Authority has ignored all of the numerous extradition requests for suspected terrorists that Israel has presented since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993.

Discussing a possible Israeli response, the Cabinet secretary, Gideon Saar, made reference Thursday to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

If P.A. President Yasser Arafat does not hand over Ze’evi’s killers, Israel will “act against the Palestinian Authority in the way currently accepted by the international community” to act against terror-sponsoring governments, Saar said.

American officials feared that Ze’evi’s killing — the first assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister by Arab terrorists in the history of the Jewish state — would escalate Mideast violence and undercut U.S. efforts to enlist Arab support for its campaign in Afghanistan.

Indeed, violence rose Thursday as Palestinian gunmen fired on Israelis driving on the major highway connecting Jerusalem to the Dead Sea — wounding three, one critically — and as Palestinians fired a mortar shell at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

Six Palestinians also died in fighting across the West Bank and from a mysterious explosion in Bethlehem.

U.S. officials have called on Arafat to arrest Ze’evi’s assassins, and asked Israel to restrain its response.

But Bush’s post-Sept. 11 declaration that he wanted suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden “dead or alive” has made it harder for the United States to convince Israeli officials that they should not track and kill Palestinians perceived as a security threat.

Following the assassination, Arafat outlawed the military wing of the PFLP, according to Palestinian security officials.

The officials also told The Associated Press that they had detained eight members of the PFLP, but it remained unclear whether the Palestinian Authority would agree to hand them over to Israel.

“Israel has to understand that we don’t take orders,” said the secretary- general of the Palestinian Cabinet, Ahmed Abdel Rahman.

Several of those arrested just after the murder were freed several hours later, and granted interviews to Arab media.

Echoing Israeli officials’ reference to the U.S.-led battle against terrorism, the Palestinian minister of information, Yasser Abed Rabbo, likened Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to bin Laden.

Israel’s initial retaliation for the assassination took the form of incursions early Thursday into the West Bank cities of Jenin and Ramallah, sparking battles in which three Palestinians died.

In Jenin, shots fired from advancing tanks hit an elementary school classroom, killing a 12-year-old Palestinian girl and seriously wounding a classmate, according to Palestinian doctors. Israeli officials denied that tanks had fired on the school.

In Ramallah, two Palestinian security officials were killed during gun battles.

In other violence Thursday, three Palestinians were killed when a car exploded in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

One of those who died in the blast was Atef Abayat, a member of Arafat’s Fatah faction who was sought for a shooting attack that killed an Israeli woman last month.

Israel denied that it had assassinated Abayat, saying he likely died in a “work accident” — a sardonic term used when a terrorist’s bomb explodes before he can reach his target.

Known for his strongly anti-Arab views, Ze’evi served for years as a top general in the Israel Defense Force, then ran the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. He was elected to the Knesset in 1988 as head of Moledet — the Hebrew word for “homeland” — a party that advocated the voluntary transfer of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries.

Yet even his political opponents lauded his generosity, scholarship — he edited some 65 books on various aspects of the Land of Israel — and his loyalty. He constantly wore a dog tag with the names of Israeli soldiers who were missing in action.

The PFLP, which rejects peace with Israel, said Wednesday’s attack avenged the death of its leader, Mustafa Zibri, in a pinpoint Israeli rocket attack in late August. Israel had accused Zibri of masterminding a string of bombings and other terror attacks inside Israel.

On Wednesday, the PFLP vowed to attack more senior Israeli officials, starting with Sharon.

A sixth-generation Jerusalemite, Ze’evi, 75, was buried in a state funeral Thursday at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

Earlier, hundreds of Israelis filed past his flag-draped coffin, which had been placed on a black carpet in front of the Knesset.

His son, Yiftah, spoke with evident anger at the funeral.

“You who killed my father — you temporary residents of Canaan — I tell you we are here to stay because it belongs to us,” he said.

He also urged Sharon to avenge his father’s death.

A day earlier, when the Knesset held a special memorial ceremony for Ze’evi, Sharon also spoke of vengeance, twice using the expression, “May God avenge his blood.”

Sharon’s language had a more poetic tinge when he offered a eulogy at Thursday’s funeral.

“Today, we part from a determined and hard man, whose love of the land was greater than his love of man, who zealously fought for its freedom with reckless courage, and had great compassion for its wounds; its cuts cut his soul, the cutting of its borders broke him,” Sharon said.

“Today, I part from a friend with whom I traveled a long road, many years and laden with emotions. We knew battles and distance, we knew agreements and differences, we knew hostility and love, we knew pain and compassion, we knew what all people who are together for so long knew: We knew friendship.”

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