Jewish settlers to keep their guns

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL yesterday rejected calls to disarm all Jewish settlers, proposing only limited measures against a few extremists. The decision outraged the Arab world, still reeling after Friday's massacre in a Hebron mosque. Palestinian leaders condemned the moves as 'hollow and superficial'.

As mourners at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein, settler and the killer of 42 Arabs worshipping at the mosque, praised his 'heroism' and promised more killings, the Israeli Cabinet proposed that only 20 members of extremist Jewish groups be disarmed.

In Hebron, thousands of Jewish settlers, some toting sub-machine guns, moved at will. The Cabinet proposed only that 15 un-named extremists be issued with 'restricting warrants', which would limit their movement. Before it met, the Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Jewish extremists were 'a disaster for the Jewish people. We need to take away from them every possibility of using arms.'

Meanwhile, a million Palestinians throughout the Israeli occupied territories yesterday spent another day under curfew, and clashes with soldiers escalated, leaving a further five Arabs dead.

Three days after the slaughter, only five arrest warrants have been issued against members of the militant group Kach, which has lent full support to the killings by Goldstein, who was one of its leaders. The government said it would 'explore options' for outlawing Kach, as well as Kahane Hai, a splinter group, both of which advocate racist anti-Arab violence.

The Cabinet also announced the release of up to 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, as a goodwill gesture.

However, Palestinian leaders, who have been demanding the release of 11,000 political prisoners since the signing of the peace accord, scorned the offer - pointing out those prisoners are all due to end their terms within days.

'These are empty decisions which have no relation to the seriousness of the crime or the basis of resolving it,' said Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Mr Arafat was meeting his PLO peace delegates in Tunis yesterday to consider terms for returning to the Middle East peace talks.

Faisal Husseini, PLO leader in East Jerusalem, warned that the Palestinians would not attend the next round, planned for Washington, unless settlers were disarmed and the issue of settlers and settlements put on the agenda.

Since the massacre, the Israeli government has been trying to balance its desire to look tough on extreme settlers - to answer Arab concerns - with a need to temper its actions so as not to alienate the Israeli right wing, which strongly supports mainstream settlers.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, yesterday placed all Islamic extremists in the same category as Goldstein, saying he 'joined Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the purpose to kill the peace negotiations'.

Controversy mounted within Israel over the role played by Israeli soldiers in the massacre. Danny Yatom, Israeli military commander for the area, denied any Israeli soldier had opened fire in the mosque.

Military sources, quoted by state- run Israel television on Saturday, said some of the dead worshippers may have been killed by army gunfire in the panic.

Yesterday Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians and one Bedouin Arab, bringing the Arab death toll in protests since the mosque killings to 19.

Troops fired teargas and live ammunition into a mosque in the Gaza strip, killing Ayman Haniyeh, 17, and wounding 42 others. In Hebron, where the 150,000 Palestinian population has been under curfew since the slaughter, many homes were running short of food and fuel as temperatures plummeted.

Hundreds of Hebron youths again defied the curfew, hurling stones at soldiers and settlers and rioting near the mosque. Soldiers shot and wounded 12 Palestinians. A crowd of 2,000 worshippers tried to enter the mosque, which Israel has kept closed since Friday.

Tension was further fuelled by the government's decision to bar all 2 million Palestinian inhabitants entry to Israel or Arab East Jerusalem. The decision, taken primarily to try to prevent retaliatory attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, is viewed by them as collective punishment as it prevents thousands from reaching their work.

There were protests in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, where 50 Israeli Arabs arrested in Saturday's clashes were still being detained. In Galilee, northern Israel, 2,000 Israeli Arab students held marches, while in the Negev Desert in the south, 10 Arabs were hurt in clashes with police.

In Oxford, no one was hurt on Saturday night when a petrol bomb was thrown into the home of Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, director of the ultra-Orthodox Oxford University L'Chaim society.

The attack is believed to be linked to the massacre.

(Photograph omitted)