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Tensions in Hebron Escalate After Murder of Settler Rabbi

August 24, 1998
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The murder of a rabbi in Hebron has cast a pall over already embittered Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The Aug. 20 murder, which sparked weekend clashes in the often volatile West Bank town, prompted several Israeli ministers to call during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting for a total suspension of already-deadlocked talks with the Palestinian Authority.

The government also called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to condemn the murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan.

Arafat has refused to condemn the recent murders of settlers. Some Palestinian officials have stated that while they are ready to condemn terror attacks on Israelis, settlers fall into a different category because of what the officials describe as their provocative behavior.

Israeli security experts suspected that Hamas was behind Ra’anan’s murder. They said they believed Hamas would choose more settler targets because of a consensus among Palestinians that attacks against settlers are legitimate.

Earlier this month, two settlers from Yizhar, Shlomo Liebman and Harel Bin-Nun, were killed by suspected Palestinian terrorists.

Although the Palestinian Authority refused Israel’s demand to condemn the latest slaying, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Israel would not suspend the negotiations.

But political observers said the latest developments made it clear that there was little chance of rescuing the talks from their current stalemate.

Security measures were stepped up around West Bank Jewish settlements in the wake of Ra’anan’s murder in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida enclave.

Israel’s army is reportedly planning to erect fences around 20 settlements in the wake of intelligence assessments that Hamas militants have targeted Jewish settlers. Army leaves have been canceled and tanks were placed on alert in anticipation of further attacks on settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that he was authorizing the construction of permanent structures at Tel Rumeida.

A secluded Jewish neighborhood located on a hill, Tel Rumeida overlooks the center of Hebron and its Jewish quarter.

Although the local Jewish community had purchased the land in the 19th century, it was not until 1984 that the Israeli government allowed a limited Jewish presence at the site.

Since then, the government has refrained from authorizing any expansion of the two-acre site, where seven families live in mobile homes.

The authorities had banned the construction there of any permanent housing — a policy reversed by Netanyahu’s announcement.

Hours after the slaying, Israeli troops sealed off Hebron to search for the Palestinian suspected of killing Ra’anan.

Ra’anan’s grandfather was Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, who helped inspire the modern-day settlers movement.

According to police, the attacker climbed through a window into Ra’anan’s trailer, stabbed him several times, then threw a firebomb into the living room.

The rabbi’s wife escaped through a window but suffered smoke inhalation.

Tensions ran high in Hebron after Ra’anan’s murder, with Jewish settlers and Palestinians throwing eggs and rocks at one another Sunday across the divide separating the areas controlled by Israel and the self-rule authority.

Israeli troops forced back about 25 settlers attempting to cross into the Palestinian-controlled section. The troops also clashed with Palestinians throwing rocks and gasoline bombs.

Palestinian police eventually pushed back the Arab demonstrators.

In an effort to restore calm to the city, the army reinstated a guard post in Tel Rumeida and sent in more troops.

Four wounded Palestinians, who were hospitalized in a Hebron hospital, said they had been beaten by the soldiers.

In a related development, a militant Jewish settler confronted President Ezer Weizman in Hebron with shouts that he was a spy and a “danger to the public” who needed to be “institutionalized either in prison or hospital.”

Baruch Marzel, who had been a member of the now-outlawed Kach movement, had waited on a street for Weizman, who was on his way to pay a condolence call to Ra’anan’s family.

Israeli observers compared Marzel’s taunts to the incitement that preceded the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

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