Israelis may delay Gaza withdrawal

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL'S Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has said he might delay withdrawing troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho on the West Bank until after the stipulated deadline of 13 December. 'The date is not sacred because it was set as a target,' Mr Rabin said.

The PLO-Israeli negotiations on implementing autonomy under way in Cairo, the Egyptian town of El Arish and Paris have made progress only on the transfer of civilian powers to the Palestinians.

The eruption of violent protests in the Gaza Strip over the past day and a half after an Israeli undercover unit killed the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has underlined how volatile is the atmosphere. It also showed what a task the new Palestinian authorities will have when they are due to assume responsibility for security once Israeli troops withdraw.

Israeli security forces shot dead another Palestinian militant yesterday in Arab east Jerusalem, Israeli police said. Palestinians identified the dead man as Khaled al-Zeer, 24, from the West Bank village of Itqu near Bethlehem.

In Paris, Bassam Abu Sharif, the senior adviser to the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, told the Independent that 'if the current cycle of violence and counter-violence and assassinations is not contained, it will become detrimental to the PLO.' He expressed confidence, however, that once inside the occupied territories, Mr Arafat could 'definitively control' the situation.

On a visit to Norway, Mr Arafat said a surge in violence in the occupied territories should not stop Israel withdrawing in line with the PLO-Israeli accord on limited Palestinian self-rule. 'I don't think we are in need of more time if there is a will,' he told a news conference. 'I think there is no reason to delay implementation of what we've signed.'

Jewish settlers in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank opposed to the peace deal smashed parked Arab cars in the West Bank town of Hebron, local residents said. Palestinian youths responded with stones when the group of between 20 and 30 Israelis approached Alia hospital. Soldiers opened fire and shattered windows in the building, hospital officials said.

A 20-car convoy of reserve Israeli army officers drove through the Palestinian town of Jericho waving flags in a protest against the agreement.

Israel clamped curfews on part of Gaza City and Jabalya refugee camp, home of Imad Aqel, the leader of Hamas's military wing, killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday. There were scattered clashes between troops and protesters in the Gaza Strip, but no reports of wounded.

In remarks broadcast yesterday, Mr Rabin said he could not yet demand that PLO headquarters in Tunis control the Gaza Strip. 'In Gaza we are in control,' Mr Rabin told Israel Radio.

The Police Minister, Moshe Shahal, said a Palestinian police force that will patrol Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho - the areas where self-rule will begin - will be powerless when it comes to laying down the law to Jewish settlers. 'Never will a Palestinian police officer be allowed to arrest an Israeli,' he told Israel Radio. The specific powers of the police force have yet to be determined in negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

The Deputy Foreign Minister, Yossi Beilin, in an interview in the Israeli newspaper Davar, said Israel accepting the principle of territorial compromise meant that 'most of the territories will not remain in our hands . . . In these places, we will have to insist that Israeli settlements remain. The settlers will have the choice of staying or leaving and moving to Israel-proper. In any case, Israel will not shirk its responsibility to these people.'

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