Strict security as Rabin returns : Muslims pour into Jerusalem for last friday of Ramadan

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The Independent Online
YITZHAK RABIN, the Israeli Prime Minister, arrived home after a visit to the United States yesterday with no immediate answers to the worsening security situation in Israel and the occupied territories and no progress to report on renewing the Middle East peace talks.

Mr Rabin returned to Jerusalem with security at its tightest for months; yesterday was the final Friday of the holy month of Ramadan and an estimated 180,000 Muslims from the West Bank and Gaza came to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, in Jerusalem's Old City.

At the same time, there was a protest vigil of Jews waiting to greet Mr Rabin, bearing a long memorial plaque with the names of Jews killed in clashes with Palestinians since the beginning of the intifada in 1987.

Mr Rabin was forced to cut short his visit to the US by three days because of the new spate of Palestinian-Israeli violence. In the past month seven Jews and 16 Palestinians have been killed, largely in attacks or clashes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers have killed four Palestinians and wounded more than 200 in the past week. Last night troops were reported to have surrounded a house in the Gaza Strip in their search for suspects. Such military actions have become a familiar prelude to full-scale destruction of Palestinian homes using rocket-propelled grenades, which usually leads to further clashes.

The violence produced a new surge of anxiety among Israelis, heightened by calls from the country's police chief, Yaacov Terner, for all Jews to carry guns. During the week, Jewish settlers have carried out a number of attacks on Palestinians. Calls for Gaza to be 'closed down' and for Israel unilaterally to withdraw have increased, and many Israelis have said they will no longer employ Palestinians. In Mr Rabin's absence political leaders have attempted to prevent any spreading panic, warning Israelis to leave security in the hands of the army and police.

Back in Jerusalem, Mr Rabin said the solution to the violence lay in a return to the peace talks. However, there was no sign yesterday that Mr Rabin has any intention of compromising further over the Palestinian deportations. There was no sign that the Palestinian peace team was ready to relax its opposition to the peace talks without such a compromise, nor was there any sign that the other Arab partners to the talks would return without the Palestinians.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, told Mr Rabin in New York that if the peace talks did not resume on 20 April, as Mr Clinton and Mr Rabin both expect, the question of the Palestinian deportations would come back on to the UN agenda.