Israeli dies in second Hebron revenge attack: Yitzhak Rabin is determined not to be panicked by increasing violence, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

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The Independent Online
AS THE bodies of seven Israelis killed in Wednesday's car bombing were being buried yesterday, a Palestinian opened fire with a sub-machine gun at a bus stop in the Israeli port of Ashdod, killing one Israeli and wounding four.

The Israeli government remained adamant that it would not be panicked by the spate of violence, and insisted that the only answer to the militants was the peace process.

Before the signing of the September peace agreement it would have been hard for Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, to remain so cool in the face of such blatant provocation. But times have changed.

Implementation of the first phase of the Gaza-Jericho accords is now within Mr Rabin's grasp and he is determined not to be diverted. 'We will pursue the peace process as if there is no terrorism and we will pursue terrorists as if there is no peace process,' he said then, after the peace agreement was struck.

Furthermore, since the Hebron massacre, ministers and officials have conceded privately that reprisals against Jews were a price that would have to be paid - it was just a matter of time.

Mr Rabin has been able to brush aside the blood-curdling threats of the Izzidin al Qassem Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which claimed responsibilty for the Afula bomb.

Yesterday, the 'Qassem Units' issued a leaflet promising four more Afula-style attacks in the run- up to Israeli Independence Day on 14 April, including rocket attacks. 'You turned our Id al-Fitr holiday (ending the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan) into a black day, so we vow to turn your Independence Day into hell,' said the leaflet, referring to the Hebron massacre, which happened during Ramadan.

The Israeli security forces are making stringent new efforts to reinforce public confidence following the second attack inside Israel proper. However, the attacks only highlight the difficulty of insulating Israel against Palestinian militants. The Israeli police said the occupied territories would be 'sealed off' from 5pm yesterday until at least 14 April. However, it is impossible for Israel to completely seal off the occupied territories. About 120,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza, travelling back and forth constantly. Palestinians often disguise themselves as settlers to by-pass checkpoints.

The flow of people between the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem cannot be halted, despite special identity cards and different coloured number-plates.

According to security sources cited in the Israeli press, the Afula car-bomb was the work of 'experts' and was similar to the car-bombs used by Hizbollah, the Islamic militant group operating in South Lebanon. The two groups share some of the same ideology, although close links never have been established.

The Hebrew press suggested the Hamas cell which prepared the bomb may have arisen among the Palestinians deported by Israel to South Lebanon last year, who acquired their know-how from the locals during their sojourn there.

Meanwhile, in Tunis the Palestine Liberation Organisation issued a statement condemning the Afula bombing and offering condolences to the bereaved.

Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, however, has still not issued a personal reaction, although he is under strong Israeli and US pressure to do so.

The talks aimed at implementing the Gaza-Jericho phase of the Oslo accords are expected to resume on Sunday. Yesterday Israeli negotiators were back home to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, an event in the Israeli calendar which is universally and solemnly observed. For one minute, at precisely 10am, every Israeli stops still in his or her tracks to remember in silence the six million dead.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said the agreement would not be signed by the original deadline of 13 April. However, it is expected that the deal will be reached soon. Palestinian sources say it could be signed within three weeks.

In Paris, Israeli and PLO negotiators on economic relations said they hoped to have an agreement within days.

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