Israeli pact unraveling on streets

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Violence is threatening to delay the start of the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and is fraying public confidence in the government's control.

An apparent attack by an Arab gunman on a bus near Tel Aviv yesterday left two dead and ignited fresh demands by critics that the government withdraw from the peace plan.


Also yesterday, a Palestinian vegetable merchant who had been shot in the head Saturday by Jewish settlers died. Members of the Israeli Cabinet reacted in outrage to television pictures showing Israeli soldiers standing by or running from the shooting settlers.

"If we don't get control, I think it can threaten the functioning of the government and . . . democratic life," said Agriculture Minister Yaacov Tsur. The settlers "have decided to move on to a stage of revolt and terrorist acts against Arabs."


The threat to the peace plan, under which Israel is to start withdrawing troops from Jericho and the Gaza Strip in two weeks, came as U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher began a shuttle mission to build onto the agreement.

Mr. Christopher flew from Tel Aviv to Damascus yesterday to try to encourage a Syria-Israel agreement. But even as he traveled, the pact signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Sept. 13 seemed in danger of slipping.

Reuters in Amman, Jordan, quoted unnamed officials of the PLO saying Chairman Yasser Arafat has accepted a delay of up to two weeks in the planned Israeli troop withdrawal, now scheduled for Dec. 13.

Private negotiations in Cairo, Egypt, apparently have failed to resolve differences between Israel and the PLO over implementation of the agreement, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has been dropping hints the target date will be missed.

The withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho is supposed to be followed by the pullback of Israeli troops from populated Palestinian areas in the rest of the West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967 and ruled by the military since then.

Responsibility for yesterday's attack on a bus was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a radical Palestinian group opposed to the peace plan. According to Israeli authorities, a Palestinian armed with an automatic weapon tried to board a civilian bus at a busy intersection of Holon, near Tel Aviv, yesterday morning.

Shooting began, and the Palestinian, identified by authorities as a resident of Gaza, was apparently shoved from the bus and killed by a soldier either firing from the bus or from a nearby bus stop filled with soldiers.

Authorities said the Palestinian shot and wounded a reserve soldier, who later died from the injuries.


Opposition Israeli parties, Likud and Tsomet, contended the attack showed that the government had no control over terrorism and demanded that it withdraw from the peace plan.

But discussion at the weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday centered on how to control Jewish settlers who have gone on a rampage to protest the agreement.

About 100,000 Jewish settlers live in armed and fenced-in communities among the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, land never claimed by Israel.

During three days of rampage in the Arab city of Hebron, settlers shot up homes and shops, wounding at least six Palestinians. Talal el Bakhri, a 54-year-old vegetable merchant, was shot in the head as he rode in a taxi to work. He died yesterday.

Most Israeli papers yesterday carried photos of Jewish settlers aiming their submachine guns at Palestinians throwing stones, while Israeli soldiers did nothing to interfere. Television pictures showed soldiers firing alongside settlers, watching them, or even running away.

Editorials thundered indignation at the pictures. "Law and order is being erased . . . [by] gangs, mafias and militias," said the daily Yediot Ahronot. The scenes "border on civil rebellion," said Ma'ariv.


Cabinet members demanded a crackdown. Army officials reportedly moved to discipline the units involved and scrutinized the pictures to identify settlers. Five Jewish settlers were arrested for questioning about their role in the shootings.

Spokesmen for the Jewish settlergroups yesterday defended their actions in Hebron, which followed the killing Thursday of two Israeli civilians on a roadside. Norm Federman, a spokesman for Kach, a right-wing nationalist group that includes many settlers, defended Jewish settlers shooting at Arabs, saying, "Anyone who wants to defend his life must act accordingly."