Palestinians rage at Barak's delay

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The Independent Online
YASSER ARAFAT'S Palestinian Authority delivered a warning to Ehud Barak yesterday not to assume that it would wait patiently for him to form his new Israeli government, while feverish Jewish settlement activity continues to redraw borders on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Thousands of stone-throwing Palestinian marchers turned out for a "Day of Rage", chanting, "No peace with settlements!" and "Settlers out!" The confrontation turned particularly violent in Hebron, where 450 Jewish extremists live amid 100,000 almost equally fanatical Arabs, and at Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem. Protesters threw a fire bomb at an army outpost guarding the isolated Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Where necessary, Palestinian security forces intervened.

The only serious casualty occurred early in the day, when Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian driver at a checkpoint south of Hebron. An army spokesman said the man had tried to run over a soldier.

Ziad Abu-Zayyad, a Palestinian minister without portfolio, told The Independent last night: "The Day of Rage was a clear message to the newly elected Israeli Prime Minister that we cannot sit quietly while the settlers are exploiting this transitional period in order to create new facts on the ground."

At the beginning of the Israeli election campaign, he recalled, Ariel Sharon, who was the Foreign Minister, urged the settlers to occupy vacant hilltops throughout West Bank areas still under Israeli control. "Since then," Mr Abu-Zayyad said, "we have witnessed hysterical settlement initiatives".

He warned Mr Barak that the Day of Rage would be repeated if the new Israeli leader did not reassure the Palestinians that he was sincere about completing the Oslo peace process, which has been stalled since the end of last year.

The Palestinians are disturbed that Mr Barak is negotiating with the National Religious Party, the settlers' champion, as well as the defeated Likud, to join his coalition. He is reported to have promised to continue subsidising the settlements and building to satisfy their "natural growth".

At the same time, he has been silent on the start of Jewish construction at two highly contentious sites in Arab East Jerusalem - Har Homa and Ras el Amud in the centre of an Arab village. He has also refrained from commenting on an order, signed by the outgoing regime since the 17 May election, to link the West Bank settler town of Ma'aleh Adumim physically to Jerusalem. Both the Americans and the Palestinians have condemned this as pre-empting negotiations on final borders.

The Palestinians are not sure how deeply Mr Barak is committed to the peace process. The former general's declared model is the hard-headed Yitzhak Rabin, who sought to draw a dividing line between Jews and Arabs, rather than Shimon Peres with his Utopian dream of a "New Middle East".