HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- A Jewish settler shot to death his Palestinian attacker yesterday in the latest violence buffeting the Mideast peace accord.
Other settlers rampaged through Hebron after the attack, smashing Arabs' car windows and vandalizing shops in what has become a predictable response.
"If the government does not put a stop to [Palestinian attacks], there are people who will," vowed Yisrael Harel, head of the West Bank Jewish Settlers' Council.
According to Israeli authorities, the settler was attacked at 5:30 a.m. as he went to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a religious shrine shared by Jews and Muslims.
The Army said he was struck in the head with a hatchet by one of two attackers but drew a weapon and killed one assailant. The other wrested the gun away from him and fled, according to the military sources.
The attack was part of a series of attacks by Palestinians on Jews that have been followed by reprisals by Jewish settlers on Arabs.
PFLP opposes agreement
In a statement from Beirut, Lebanon, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack. The organization is one of 10 rejectionist Palestinian groups that have vowed to wreck the Sept. 13 agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Their goal is identical to that of radical Jewish settlers, who have similarly promised to disrupt the agreement that gives Palestinians partial autonomy in some areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"We will not allow ourselves to be hostage of the [peace process]," Mr. Harel said yesterday. "The pot is boiling, and in a little while the lid will blow off."
Cars and shops damaged
Settlers from Kiryat Arba, a right-wing Jewish community near Hebron, descended on the Arab city after the attack. They smashed cars belonging to Palestinian workers and rampaged through vegetable markets and shops, overturning merchandise.
"This is criminal and provocative," fumed Hisham Sidar, 29, a laborer whose car window was shattered and who had two tires punctured by the settlers. "The army never does anything to protect us."
Moments earlier, four settlers strolled boldly down the middle of a central street in Hebron, Uzi machine guns in hand. As Arab residents quickly shut their doors and slipped off the street, an Army patrol jeep followed along behind the settlers.
Numerous Palestinians claimed that the Army had simply watched settlers as they damaged Arab property. An Army spokesman said last night: "We are doing all we can to keep order. In general, we are keeping order in the occupied territories."
Support for plan slips
The accelerating clashes have weakened support for the peace accord among both Israelis and Palestinians.
"As long as Israelis are here, this sort of thing will continue," said Juwad Ghulmeh, 21, referring to the attack on the settler. "If the occupation doesn't stop, this won't stop."
A product of this animosity is Farez Alkwasmi, 17. One recent day his father was ordered out of his home at 3 a.m. by Israeli soldiers to clean the streets, he said. The humiliation burned.
"I can't live in this city if I cannot kill the Jews," the teen-ager said. "Those who attacked the Jew today are good men with strong hearts. What they did is right."
On the other side is Baruch Goldstein, a settler in Kiryat Arba.
"The Nazi Arab enemy attacked a Jew," he told Israel radio. "The army is not doing its job. It is not protecting Jews here and is collaborating with [the Arabs]. With the help of God, we will establish the state of Judea and deal with them by ourselves."
There are about 100,000 Jewish settlers among the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 War.
Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs is considered the burial site of Abraham -- who is revered by both Jews and Muslims -- as well as Jacob, Isaac and other prophets. Arabs and Jews often worship there, separated by Israeli soldiers, and the place has been the focus of frequent conflicts through the years.
The dead attacker was identified as Mohammed Burkan, 26.
The settler, identified by Israel Radio as Avraham Tsarbev, had severe injuries and underwent nine hours of surgery in Jerusalem last night.