Killings threaten prospects for deal


JERUSALEM, Dec. 31 (JTA) — As Israelis await a Palestinian response to President Clinton’s peace proposals, two killings in the West Bank drew cries for revenge and further dimmed the prospects for peace.

Settlers warned of retaliatory attacks after Binyamin Ze’ev Kahane, the leader of an outlawed, far-right Israeli political party, was killed Sunday in a shooting attack in the West Bank.

Hours later, a senior member of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction was gunned down near his West Bank home, and Palestinian militia leaders promised to avenge his death.

Kahane, the son of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the slain leader of the far-right Kach movement, was killed along with his wife when Palestinian gunmen ambushed their van as they traveled near the Jewish settlement of Ofra.

Five of the couple’s six children, ranging in age from two months to 10 years, were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously.

The couple’s only son had been dropped off at school minutes before the attack and was not with the family.

An unknown group calling itself the “Martyrs of the Al-Aksa Intifada” claimed responsibility for the ambush.

In a statement, the group said its gunmen had opened fire on a vehicle carrying Jewish settlers near Ofra, and that all the passengers were either killed or wounded. It was not clear if Kahane was specifically targeted.

Doctors at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, where the family was taken, said Binyamin and Talia Kahane were hit by bullets and that the children were wounded from injuries they sustained when the car flipped over into a ditch.

Like his father, Binyamin Kahane was militantly anti-Arab.

Brooklyn-born Meir Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League and the Kach movement, which was outlawed in Israel in 1988. He advocated forcing all Arabs from the Jewish state. He was assassinated 10 years ago in New York by an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen.

His son, who ran religious seminaries, founded Kahane Chai, Hebrew for Kahane Lives, a movement that espoused his father’s beliefs. Israel outlawed the movement in 1992.

A New York native, Binyamin Kahane lived with his family in the West Bank settlement of Tapuah.

The slaying of the Kahanes drew immediate calls for revenge.

An estimated 20,000 people took part in the funeral procession through western Jerusalem, where some mourners rampaged through stores trying to attack Arab workers. Ten policemen were injured.

The procession also stopped opposite the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, where mourners denounced Barak’s peace efforts and called him a murderer.

The Yesha Council, the mainstream umbrella group representing settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Barak and Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami bore personal responsibility for the bloodshed.

The council said in a statement that settlers planned to take action beginning Monday to keep the “murderers off the roads.” This was believed to mean that settlers planned to block entrances to Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Sunday’s slaying of the Fatah leader also drew vows of revenge.

Palestinian officials claimed that Thabet Thabet, Fatah’s secretary-general in the Tulkarm area, was the victim of an Israeli assassination squad.

Marwan Barghouti, leader of the Fatah militias in the West Bank, warned Sunday that Barak bore responsibility and that he had “opened the gates of hell.”

Thabet was killed near his home in Tulkarm a day after Fatah called on Palestinians to intensify their fight against Israel.

Israel’s army had no immediate comment, but Israeli security sources had previously confirmed that the Israel Defense Force has been eliminating Palestinian militants believed to be closely involved in attacks on Israelis.

Barak said Sunday that Israeli security forces have “full freedom of action” in dealing with security threats.

In further violence Sunday, an Israeli was seriously wounded in a shooting attack on a road north of Jerusalem.

And in Hebron, Palestinians claimed five people were wounded when Israeli soldiers opened fire after the Jewish enclave of Beit Hadassah was fired on, Israel Radio reported.

Earlier, Jewish residents of the town overturned stalls in the Palestinian market, entering the area despite an order declaring it a closed military zone.

The Israeli army is stepping up its presence in the divided town to prevent friction between Jewish and Palestinian residents.

Sunday’s violence came as prospects appeared to be dimming for President Clinton’s last-ditch efforts to forge a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians before he leaves office Jan. 20.

Last week, Israel accepted Clinton’s ideas in principle, but on condition the Palestinians also agree to them as basis for further discussion.

The Palestinians have withheld a formal response, pending clarifications from U.S. officials on a number of issues.

Barak said during Sunday’s Cabinet meeting that if the Palestinian Authority rejects the proposals, Israel would have to take a “time-out” from negotiations to prepare for a unilateral separation from the Palestinians.

Clinton’s proposals call for far-reaching concessions by both Israel and the Palestinians.

Most controversial for Israelis is a proposal to cede control of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, to the Palestinians. In addition, Jerusalem would be divided, with Arab neighborhoods of the city coming under Palestinian Authority control.

In exchange, the Palestinians would scale back their demand that descendants of the Arab refugees who fled or were expelled in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence be allowed to return to their former homes inside Israel.

Speaking in Jordan, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians are aware of the deadline implicit in Clinton’s imminent departure from office, but he warned that Palestinian officials “do not want the time factor to be used as a sword over our necks.”

Meanwhile, the former head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, Ami Ayalon, said it was inappropriate for Israel to conduct negotiations while Palestinian terrorist attacks continue.

Ayalon said doing so would fail to give Arafat an incentive to crack down on terrorism.

Israeli media reported that senior IDF officials warned the Cabinet last week of the dangerous situation that could be created if Clinton’s proposals are adopted.

The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot quoted the current head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, as saying that unless adjustments were made to the proposals, they would lead to the creation of a “Palestinian terrorist state” beside Israel.

“A Palestinian state will have to exist, but it is up to us to make sure it does not harbor terrorists,” he was quoted as saying.

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