Islamic Jihad vows to 'burn the earth' under Israelis' feet

ERIC SILVER

Gaza City

Islamic Jihad's threats to avenge the assassination of Fathi Shkaki were published in a leaflet distributed in Gaza yesterday, threatening to "make the earth burn" under every Israeli's feet. It denounced the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, as a terrorist and promised more suicide bombings.

Although the leaflet was printed in Gaza, it carried a Jerusalem dateline. Local Islamic Jihad leaders evidently did not want to provoke a pre-emptive strike from Yasser Arafat's Palestinian police, who have been making it increasingly difficult for them to operate from autonomous Palestinian territory.

The group's most senior politician here, Sheikh Nafez Azam, would say only that the leaders abroad would decide how to avenge Shkaki. "Here we cannot decide,'' the sheikh insisted. "Only the leaders outside Palestine can decide.''

Pressed on what he would recommend, he replied: "We have a duty to defend ourselves against this kind of aggression. This crime shows that the Israelis are not serious when they talk about peace with the Palestinians.''

Despite the assassination, Mr Arafat left on schedule yesterday at the head of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East economic summit in Amman. The Israeli delegation is led by Mr Rabin.

None the less, Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation warned the Israeli Prime Minister that he was playing with fire by killing Palestinian opposition leaders, however violent their resistance to the peace negotiations.

"This is a time to stop state terrorism and the use of assassination to resolve disputes between peoples," said Diab Nemer Allouh, the Fatah spokesman. "This kind of step will only revive the violence that the Palestinian National Authority has been working to stop.

"The Palestinian Authority will take all the necessary precautions to prevent attacks against Israel but we hold the Israelis to blame for all that is going to happen now.''

Mr Allouh, who served time with Shkaki in an Israeli prison a decade ago, added: "Despite our political differences, I am saddened by Dr Shkaki's death and I am worried about the results.'' Islamic Jihad, which has the support of less than 2 per cent of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, rejects any co-existence with the Jewish state.

The larger Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, is ready to compromise, if only for tactical reasons.

One of its Gaza leaders, Emad Al Falouji, accompanied Mr Arafat to Jordan yesterday, ostensibly as an editor of the Hamas weekly paper, Al Watan.

Islamic Jihad repudiates even this degree of acquiescence. Ali Saftawi, the publisher of its weekly newspaper Al Istiqlal, said: "We are against any normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab regimes. I would have refused to go to Amman with Mr Arafat.''

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