PLO pleads for help against settlers

THE PALESTINE Liberation Organisation put into gear its diplomatic machinery yesterday to seek international protection for the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories from trigger-happy Jewish settlers. It followed the killing last Friday of more than 40 Palestinians by a Jewish settler at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, on the West Bank.

In Tunis, headquarters of the PLO in exile, the chairman, Yasser Arafat, told Igor Ivanov, the special envoy of the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, that the security of the Palestinians should be guaranteed by sending international forces. And he found a response from Karolos Papoulias, the Foreign Minister of Greece, current president of the European Union.

'The bloody events of Hebron have created a new situation which must be overcome through new measures which will have to be decided by everybody,' Mr Papoulias said after meeting Mr Arafat. Mr Papoulias then flew on to Israel, at the start of a shuttle between the PLO and Israel.

Mr Arafat also despatched senior aides to Arab and Western capitals: the PLO's foreign minister, Farouk al Kaddoumi (Abu Lotf), was sent to Damascus and Amman, to co-ordinate Arab positions.

Mr Arafat's chief spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabbo, flew to Paris and another envoy, Nabil Shaath, was being readied to go to Washington via London. Dr Shaath would have arrived yesterday, but the PLO leadership wanted no confusion about the purpose of his visit. He was an envoy, not a negotiator, in peace talks with Israel. President Bill Clinton had announced within hours of the Hebron massacre that he was reconvening peace talks in Washington yesterday.

The Palestinians are making a point in not sending Dr Shaath until the end of the week, so that there can be no mistaking his function.

Palestinian officials called for a bigger US role, and said the ball was now in the American and Israeli court. They said that Mr Arafat had laid down a number of conditions for the resumption of peace talks. These included the adoption of a resolution by the UN Security Council, currently being discussed, which would guarantee the protection of Palestinians in the occupied territories. This could be achieved by disarming all settlers, relocating especially extremist Jewish settlements away from Palestinian population centres, and establishing an international presence in the occupied territories. 'Observers and civilians are not going to help' one spokesman stated. 'It will have to be a proper force like in Angola, Sarajevo, Sinai or Lebanon, to act physically.

'The blood of the victims of Hebron is a supporting document for Arafat's demands,' said an official close to Mr Arafat. 'The real need is to protect the Palestinian civilians.' This is a demand the PLO has made over the years after other bloody outrages.

But Israel has always rejected these calls. Under international law, Israel is obliged, as the occupying power, to provide security. The main frictions have arisen with Jewish settlers in the heart of Palestinian towns such as Hebron.

Those frictions were exposed again yesterday when Israeli troops shot dead at least two Palestinians and wounded some 60 in confrontations in the occupied territories between soldiers and stone-throwing youths. The clashes occurred after the army temporarily lifted curfews to allow residents to buy food.

(Photograph omitted)

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