During volatile 'peace,' Palestinians slay two Israelis, one Arab in Gaza


GAZA, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip -- Two Israeli soldiers and an Arab woman were killed by Palestinians in separate incidents yesterday, as the rule of anger and violence in the Gaza Strip continued to endanger peace.

The burden of controlling the volatile strip has begun to shift from Israel to the Palestinians. Sources within the Palestine Liberation Organization said yesterday that they are readying a 3,000-man security force to try to stop assassinations and interfactional violence.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin yesterday proclaimed one result of the shifting of that burden. He said that attacks against Israelis had dropped 50 percent since Israel signed an accord with the PLO Sept. 13.

But the news was tempered by the killings of two Israeli soldiers who were apparently kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists as they hitchhiked home after duties in Gush Katif, the thin strip of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The two were shot, and their bodies were left 700 yards from the stolen Israeli vehicle in which they were slain, according to Israeli military sources.

A statement claiming responsibility -- attached to a copy of one slain soldier's identification card -- was distributed by an armed faction of the Hamas fundamentalist group.

"Rabin should know there are people in Gaza who will continue fighting to the last day," the statement said.

Hamas opposes the accord signed by Israel and the PLO. That agreement obligates only the PLO, which agreed to stop attacks by its own members.

"The PLO has kept its promise," Mr. Rabin said yesterday. "Since the 13th of September, there was not a single terror attack by this organization in Israel."

He said "the violence and terror have decreased by about 50 percent" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But he warned that opponents to the peace accord will "do everything they can to heighten terror." Mr. Rabin spoke at a public appearance in Jerusalem before news of the soldiers' deaths was released.

The Palestinian woman who was killed yesterday was caught in the cross-fire of fighting between two Palestinian factions in the Rafah refugee camp of the Gaza Strip.

The woman was identified as 23-year-old Miriam Juda. Palestinian sources said she was due to be married tomorrow. She was accidentally shot in the head as she cleaned in front of her house.

The fighting, between armed gangs of Fatah -- the PLO's chief faction -- and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, sputtered Saturday night and yesterday morning in the refugee camp after a fistfight between two gang members.

Such fighting, coming after the assassinations of three Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip in the last month, worries Palestinian leaders. They fear that spreading violence could ruin plans for autonomy.

"The people are furious and angry about what's going on," Freih Abu-Middain, a leader in the PLO, said yesterday. "There is no authority in the streets. Nobody feels safe in their home."

Fatah officials in Gaza said they are assembling a security force of about 3,000 of its members. The force would immediately begin protecting senior Palestinian officials from assassinations and would try to stop interfactional fighting.

"We are starting this in order to take the power from the Israelis directly and not to have a gap," according to Tewfiq Abu Khusa, an official at the Fatah headquarters in Gaza.

Some would be armed, and most would be uninformed. Mr. Khusa said included in their duties would be "intelligence."

"The Israelis are concerned only for the security of their own people, and they are not providing security for Palestinians," he said. "This is the first step in establishing Palestinian authority."

"It's a secret police," said another Fatah official, Wafiq Abu Sido.

If so, it is likely to be regarded warily by other Palestinian factions. They fear domination by Fatah, the largest and strongest of the dozen or more Palestinian groups.

Other Palestinian sources suggested that the security force was largely propaganda. It could not be so quickly assembled, they said, and could not exercise authority with weapons without raising objections by other Palestinians and by the Israelis, who do not begin withdrawal from the Gaza Strip until Dec. 13.

Lt. Col. Moshe Fogel, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said last night that the details of when such a Palestinian force might begin, and its exact duties, must be negotiated. But, he added, "We understand the [Israeli force] is withdrawing from populated areas in the Gaza Strip, and we certainly accept the fact that they will need a police force to secure the area."

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