Fears for Netanyahu's safety

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The Independent Online
THE ISRAELI security services have warned Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to limit his public appearances owing to fears that he may be assassinated by the extreme religious right for agreeing to a partial withdrawal from the West Bank.

"I don't sleep at night, ever since I heard the cries of 'traitor' directed at Netanyahu," the Israeli officer in charge of guarding VIPs, but whose identity is secret, was quoted as saying. "I am definitely concerned about the escalation of verbal violence against the prime minister."

The fear that Jewish settlers on the West Bank or their sympathisers in Israel might move from words to deeds stems from memories of the events that preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's former prime minister, in 1995. Noam Federman, a far-right leader, said: "There are those who say revenge should be left to God, but it is not God's work but ours."

Despite fears that the religious right will try to kill Mr Netanyahu, such an attack would be far more difficult to carry out today because of improvements in security. Mr Rabin was almost unguarded when he was shot dead after a peace rally by Yigal Amir, a religious nationalist student.

In the tense political atmosphere in the wake of the agreement at the Wye summit last week in Maryland, Mr Netanyahu has decided against putting the deal to his cabinet, saying he must first see the Palestinians' promised security plan. The Israeli press says the real reason is that he is not sure he can get the support of a majority of his cabinet. However, several ministers who were wavering have come out in favour of the plan.

Last night the Israeli leader was due to address a meeting of the central committee of his Likud, which is normally packed with his supporters.

The United States is trying to put a brave face on Mr Netanyahu's postponement of the vote in his cabinet, saying Washington expects both Israel and the Palestinians to start implementing the Wye agreement from Monday. Israeli Government claims that the Palestinians are already reneging on the deal is further embittering the atmosphere.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, returned home to Gaza yesterday to face unexpected troubles within his own camp following the killing of a member of his organisation, Fatah, by Palestinian military intelligence in Ramallah on Sunday. The dead boy, Wasim al-Tarifi, 16, belonged to a prominent local family.

In an attempt to defuse the dispute, a Palestinian military court in Jericho has already jailed four Palestinian military policemen for attacking the headquarters of Fatah in Ramallah. This is unlikely to satisfy the family of the dead boy.