Peres turns up heat on Arafat

Bombing fall-out: Israeli PM's poll chances slip as anger grows among voters over suicide attacks by Hamas

PATRICK COCKBURN

Hebron

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime Minister, said yesterday that Israel may delay its withdrawal from Hebron, the capital of the southern West Bank, unless Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, clamps down on Islamic militants.

In the wake of last Sunday's suicide bombs, which killed 25 Israelis, opinion polls show Mr Peres for the first time being beaten in an election by Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party by 51 per cent to 45 per cent.

At a late-night meeting Mr Arafat was told by Lieutenant-General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the Israeli chief of staff, that Israel wanted 15 members of Hamas, the Islamic organisation, arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

He also demanded that Mr Arafat move against Hamas as a political movement and not just against its military wing, known as the Izzedine al-Qassim brigades.

There is growing evidence, however, that Hamas is split and the latest bombings were carried out by a cell which does not obey orders from the political leadership. Izzedine al-Qassim in Gaza said "there is no connection" between its organisation and the two attacks.

In Hebron, Khalid Amayreh, an Islamic commentator, said yesterday: "I believe it was a splinter group within the Islamic movement which was responsible."

It is possible that Hamas is distancing itself from the attacks to avoid retaliation by Mr Arafat and Israel. For security reasons, Mr Amayreh says, the Izzedine al-Qassim cells on the West Bank operate with little control from the centre.

He believes that Hamas wanted to regain face after the assassination of Yahyah Ayyash, its master bomb-maker, in January but "the most important thing for the organisation is a modus vivendi with the Palestinian Authority."

As Mr Peres sees his chances of victory in the election on 29 May increasingly in doubt, he is making almost desperate efforts to reassure Israelis that he is doing everything he can for their security. He announced yesterday that Palestinians would continue to be forbidden entry to Israel from the West Bank and Gaza and a special headquarters in charge of security on buses will be set up. He said he would demand Mr Arafat disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups. If the Palestinian leader did not act, Mr Peres said, the withdrawal from Hebron next month would be in doubt.

The bombs have already saved Mr Netanyahu and Likud from what appeared an inevitable defeat. They have ended the political honeymoon Labour has enjoyed since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, in November. Mr Netanyahu's hopes of victory are also being boosted by talks with David Levy, the influential former foreign minister, who had broken with Likud to form his own party, called Gesher. Mr Levy is prepared to take his party into Likud if he is guaranteed seven seats in the 120- member Knesset, twice as many as he could expect to win if he stands on his own.

This may be too great a price for members of Likud. Mr Netanyahu, whom political observers were beginning to write off a week ago, is trying to ensure that he does not slip back in the polls as the emotional reaction to Sunday's bombings becomes less intense.

At a press conference yesterday he said he would continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but would refuse to meet Mr Arafat.

He said that he would "send the tanks into the autonomous areas" but believed he knew of ways to stop suicide bombers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee