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Palestinian kills two in Tel Aviv Israel to seal off Gaza indefinitely


JERUSALEM -- A young Palestinian went on a knife-wielding rampage in the streets of Tel Aviv yesterday, stabbing two Israelis to death and wounding nine others before being caught and beaten by bystanders who turned him over to the police, the Israeli authorities said.

Twelve hours after the attack, the Israeli army said that starting today, it would indefinitely seal off the occupied Gaza Strip, where the assailant lived and which he had left yesterday morning using a government-issued permit.

The closing most directly affects some 30,000 Gazans who work each day in Israel. Before the army announcement, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin cautioned that it was "illogical" to keep the volatile coastal strip closed for long, no matter how appealing many Israelis find the idea, and insisted that the best hope for ending violence was "a political solution" through the stalled peace talks.

It was not clear what had motivated the attack.

Authorities identified the suspect as Ziad Salameh, 19. According to relatives in Gaza, he belongs to the militantly anti-Israel Islamic Jihad (Holy War).

Tel Aviv police officers said that he had acted on his own, running amok out of anger over his inability to find work painting cars.

But an Islamic Jihad leader in Syria, Fathi al-Shukaki, asserted that the Tel Aviv stabbings were part of his group's "resistance against the Zionist occupation," and he warned of more attacks until Israel returned all of the approximately 400 Palestinians deported to Lebanon three months ago.

Israel says the deportees are security threats who belong either to Islamic Jihad or, far more commonly, to the militant group of Islamic fundamentalists known as Hamas.

Right-wing Israeli politicians urged that checkpoints leading from Gaza be closed and that Israel break off peace negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states, which the United States and Russia hope to restart next month after a four-month hiatus.

On the left, some politicians said Israel should withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, with or without a peace agreement accompanying security arrangements.

But Prime Minister Rabin rejected advice from both ends of the political spectrum, telling a parliamentary committee that the Middle East talks had to continue and that it would be impossible for Israel to leave Gaza without first reaching a political settlement with the Palestinians.

It was too early to tell if the Tel Aviv killings would have more of an impact on the peace talks than other incidents in a three-month spate of violence that has been unusually grim even for a land long accustomed to such troubles.

In early December, extremists claiming to belong to Hamas killed four Israeli soldiers and a border policeman.

Those killings led directly to the mass deportations of Palestinians that have been widely deplored overseas but that Israel defends as a legitimate response to terrorism.

Since the expulsions in mid-December, there has been a rise in clashes between Israeli soldiers and residents of the occupied territories, with about 50 Palestinians shot and killed by soldiers in street disturbances over the past 10 weeks -- a death rate not seen in several years.

Lately, as part of this cycle, there has been a fresh spate of Israeli deaths as the result of Arab knifings and rock-throwing in both Israel and the territories.

Witnesses to yesterday's incident said the assailant raced along streets in a Tel Aviv commercial district and stabbed people indiscriminately with two knives that he was carrying.

The slain victims were identified as Natan Azarya, a 35-year-old barber, and Gregory Abramov, 27, a recent immigrant from the former Soviet Union.

The attacker, who was chased down by bystanders, received hospital treatment for injuries as the result of beatings by his enraged captors.

Other Arab workers were also held by the police. As two of them were being pushed into a van, dozens of angry Israelis reportedly tried to attack them, shouting, "Death to the Arabs!" Police sent in reinforcements to prevent anti-Arab assaults.

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