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Doctors warned against arming Arabs' attacker

The Israeli army conscripted Noam Friedman, the religious soldier who shot seven Arabs in Hebron on Wednesday, despite a written warning from psychiatrists in his home town that he should not be trusted with a gun.

The religious newspaper, Yom Hashishi, yesterday published extracts from a letter sent to the draft board by his local education office in May 1995.

"It should be considered seriously whether to draft this man," his counsellors wrote, "and especially whether to place a weapon in his hands." Friedman was reported to have boasted afterwards that he had tricked the army into taking him. "Now," the paper quoted him as saying, "they will give me a weapon to shoot Arabs."

Friedman, 19, was remanded in custody yesterday. Police also charged a second soldier, Yuval Jibli, 21, with complicity in the shooting. Friedman told the court that he had wanted to show that the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not represent the Israeli people. He said he felt compelled to act to stop the government handing over most of Hebron to the Palestinians.

Unlike Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the Hebron mosque killer Baruch Goldstein, Friedman has been repudiated even by the Israeli right. He was too much of a loner, too obviously a psychiatric case.

"I don't expect him to become a cultural hero," Ehud Sprinzak, a Hebrew University expert on Israel's radical right, said. "There is a consensus within the settlements that he damaged their cause."

None the less, commentators pinned some of the responsibility on the religious right. "Even if the man acted on his own," wrote Nahum Barnea in the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot, "without orders from rabbis or politicians, the extreme right cannot be exempt from blame. In all sectors of this country, there are lunatics, but in only one sector do they turn weapons into a tool of politics."

The final negotiations for a Hebron redeployment were marking time last night. The Israeli Defence Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, and Yasser Arafat's deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, met until 3am yesterday, but failed to reach a consensus that would enable Mr Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader to meet and initial an agreement. It will probably have to wait over the weekend.

The main difference is over the timetable for further Israeli withdrawals - from West Bank rural areas - once the Hebron pull-out is completed. The Palestinians want Israel to keep to the original schedule, under which the evacuations were supposed to have started last September and finished in September 1997. Israel contends that the clock should restart from where it was stopped by last year's Islamist suicide bombings.

David Bar-Illan, Mr Netanyahu's media adviser, last night accused the Palestinians of stalling.