Tensions increase in Israel as settlers challenge Barak

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The Independent Online

Israel is preparing to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin amid concerns that the virulent sentiments that accompanied the premier's assassination are emerging again, particularly among young militant Jewish settlers.

Israel is preparing to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin amid concerns that the virulent sentiments that accompanied the premier's assassination are emerging again, particularly among young militant Jewish settlers.

Four right-wing rabbis recently fuelled the mood by issuing a religious edict stating that those who give up what they deem to be the "Land of Israel" -- which includes the West Bank -- are committing the equivalent of spilling blood.

Israel's Justice Ministry hasasked the Attorney General to establish if the edict -- a repeat of one made during last year's Wye Agreement -- amounts to incitement to violence.

The request came yesterday as dozens of Jewish settlers blocked the removal of 12 West Bank Jewish settlements listed for closure under a deal thrashed out between the settlers' council and the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.

Most of the protesters belonged to a group of young settlers who arechallenging the established leaders, whom they consider far too moderate. They sang, prayed and danced as they prevented a truck from removing a shipping container --the only component of anuninhabited outpost known by the Israeli authorities as Hill 804.

"Today the outposts, tomorrow Jerusalem" said one of their banners. The same group played a prominent part in a 3,000-strong weekend demonstration outside Mr Barak's house in support of the settlers.

They have mounted their challenge despite Mr Barak agreeing not to touch the majority of the 42 West Bank settlements set up over the past year in an effort to grab as much land as possible ahead of permanent status talks with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians say there are more than 145 Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, with at least 170,000 inhabitants who must be evacuated before they will sign a peace treaty.

Mr Rabin was shot dead on 5 November 1995 by a right-wing fanatic, Yigal Amir, who considered him too willing to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Mr Rabin's widow, Leah, said this week that she feared the settlers would resort to a suicide bomb to protest against Mr Barak's policies.

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