Sharon 'in danger from Jewish extremists'

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The Independent Online

Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service, tightened security around the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, yesterday after warnings that right-wing Jewish extremists could resort to violence to prevent the evacuation of settlements in Gaza.

Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service, tightened security around the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, yesterday after warnings that right-wing Jewish extremists could resort to violence to prevent the evacuation of settlements in Gaza.

The Knesset held a special session to debate threats of violent resistance from some pro-settlement figures and a widely reported suggestion to the cabinet by Avi Dichter, head of Shin Bet, that Mr Sharon could be in danger.

The Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, has called for a meeting of intelligence and law enforcement officials to discuss ways of containing the Jewish extremist threat, including prosecutions under the criminal law of incitement.

Israel's President, Moshe Katsav, called on rabbis and Jewish civic leaders in the occupied territories to use their influence to quell any violent response to the plan to withdraw 7,500 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four small settlements in the West Bank.

Threats to resist any evacuationhave grown since Mr Sharon, until recently hailed on the far right for his association with settlement-building, decided to go ahead with the Gaza plan despite losing a May referendum of Likud members.

On Monday the Prime Minister urged the Justice Minister, Tommy Lapid, to step up action against threats of violence: "It pains me that as someone who all his life defended Jews in the wars of Israel I now need defence against Jews, for fear someone might harm me." Asked if he wore a bullet-proof vest, the Israeli Prime Minister reportedly joked that vests were not made big enough to fit him.

No known threat has been made against Mr Sharon, but the political establishment has been sensitised to the possibility of assassination by right-wing extremists ever since the murder in 1995 of Yitzhak Rabin, who went much further than Mr Sharon in seeking to bring about a lasting peace settlement.

Suggestions that settlers could be urged to use violence have intensified with statements by two members of the banned Kach party. Noam Federman and Baruch Marzel said "there are no more red lines" limiting actions to prevent the expulsion of Jews from their land.

And Uri Elitzur, who was bureau chief to Benjamin Netanyahu when he was Prime Minister, has provoked calls for his indictment by saying he would understand if settlers offered violent resistance.

The Justice Department is examining a remark made by Avigdor Nevetzal, Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, that din rodef ­ a Jewish religious law that permits killing in self-defence ­ was theoretically applicable in the case of transfer of the "land of Israel" to non-Jews. Although Mr Nevetzal was careful to say that the law no longer had a practical effect, Knesset members have called for his indictment.

The Chief Rabbinate Council this week sharply rebuffed calls by some far-right rabbis for such resistance by settlers. The Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said: "Rabbis don't need to decide on political and military matters.... There is an elected government and we must not interfere with it."

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