Rabin hints at delay in Israeli army pull-out: Violence surges in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Yasser Arafat faces growing disillusionment with the peace accord

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ISRAEL'S Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, yesterday hinted again that there might be a delay of a week or two in the planned 13 December start to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho area.

He told reporters in London that in the original agreement, signed in Washington on 13 September, two months were set aside for reaching an agreement and four months for implementation. He said the important thing was that it was implemented in time by April with a clear-cut agreement, without leaving anything open to interpretation.

Mr Rabin said he had no plans to meet the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat. Earlier in Cairo, Nabil Shaath, Mr Arafat's political adviser, had said the two men would meet on 12 December.

Mr Rabin said that Israel would pursue 'terrorists', as he called them, and fight terrorism but continue to negotiate with the PLO.

Referring to the recent clashes in the occupied territories, he said 'the problem is not the violence'. He said the violence was a symptom of the frustration at the lack of progress in the negotiations, rather than a cause.

Mr Arafat also faces internal opposition to the way that he has been handling the negotiations. Three senior PLO officials, including Abu Mazen, who negotiated the 13 September accord, were boycotting last night's meeting of the PLO executive committee in Tunis.

During Mr Rabin's European tour - to drum up economic and financial support for the Palestinian development programme and better trade terms for Israeli exports to the European Union - he has called on both Israelis and Palestinians to find ways to overcome tension. Violence and counter-violence lead nowhere, he said. 'Our purpose is to restore, with the assistance of the Palestinians, tranquillity to the Gaza Strip.'

For that reason he had instructed his army commanders to meet local Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip to discuss security arrangements - a sign of the rapid changes in attitudes, with former adversaries finding common cause to ensure security.

Tension, however, remains high. Jewish settlers on the West Bank reacted angrily after a second Israeli shot by Palestinian gunmen on Wednesday died of his wounds yesterday. In Hebron, hundreds of Jewish settlers fired in the air, smashed windows and slashed Palestinians' car tyres.

Yitzhak Weinstock, 19, a student at a yeshiva, or religious seminary, and a resident of the Alon Shvut settlement, died in a Jerusalem hospital after he was shot in the chest. He was the 15th Jew killed since Israel and the PLO signed the accord. More than 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis during the same period.

Weinstock was the victim of an attack outside el-Bireh, north of Jerusalem. The car in which he and three others were travelling had broken down. As they were fixing it they were sprayed with automatic fire by Palestinian gunmen. A kindergarten teacher was killed instantly.

Also yesterday, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, a statement in the name of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement emphasised the growing disillusionment with the peace accord. 'Our blood will pour in a raging volcano that will submerge the enemy,' it said.

(Photograph omitted)