Israel, PLO move quickly after accord on Hebron

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- Israel and the Palestinians are rushing to put into effect the first steps of Palestinian autonomy, hoping their agreement yesterday to send international observers to Hebron will finally close the wounds of the Feb. 25 mosque massacre.

Negotiators in Cairo, Egypt, immediately plunged into negotiations over how to transfer authority to Palestinians in Jericho and the Gaza Strip under the stalled pact they


signed in September.

Officials talked of starting Israeli troop withdrawals within two weeks, and the first Palestinian police are expected to arrive in Gaza and Jericho next week.


Both sides are feeling pressure to move quickly because of growing resistance from Israeli and Palestinian hard-liners.

In Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement next to Hebron, thousands of opponents of the peace plan rallied yesterday to denounce the government.

Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud opposition coalition, said Israel's agreement to put foreign observers in Hebron was "not Zionist." Other right-wing leaders vowed to resist any attempts to remove Jewish settlements from Hebron.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin lashed back, accusing the opposition leaders of using "hypocritical and lying words." He said "no one is talking now about evacuating" Jews from Hebron.

But he also castigated the "religious ruling" by three right-wing rabbis that soldiers should disobey any order to dismantle settlements. "There is nothing more dangerous to the existence of Israel as a democratic state," he said.

Palestinian opponents also rejected the agreement reached ,X yesterday on the international force. In Hebron, Dr. Aziz Dweik, a Muslim fundamentalist, said, "This is another U.N. force which will do nothing for the security of our people."

A spokesman for the Hamas Palestinian faction in Jordan dismissed the agreement and said the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, "has lost much of his power."

Mustafa Natshe, the recently reinstalled mayor of Hebron, repeated his call for the disarming and removal of Jewish settlers from the Arab city. Otherwise, he said, "maybe the settlers will attack the international force."


The agreement calls for 160 foreign observers: 90 from Norway, 35 from Denmark and 35 from Italy. The "temporary international force" will be armed with pistols, but its main duty will be to observe.

Its assignment will last three months and could be renewed only with the agreement of both sides.

Approval of such a force was described here as the first time Israel has accepted armed foreign observers in the occupied territories.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency does have about 20 unarmed observers who try to intercede in conflicts between the Israel army and Palestinians, but Israel has never officially accepted their role.

Yesterday, Mr. Rabin described the acceptance of such a force as a price to be paid for the Feb. 25 massacre of Muslims in the Tomb of the Patriarchs by a Jewish settler.

"I see this as an exceptional case following the terrible event," he said. "Since it was carried out by an Israeli with a gun given to him by the Israel Defense Forces for self-defense, [and done] while wearing a uniform, and . . . following the expressions by many [of] justification of his action, the state of Israel is paying for that."


Progress toward the implementation of the Israeli-PLO peace accord signed in September in Washington was halted by the massacre.

The agreement reached in Cairo yesterday called for an acceleration of the plans, including an effort to effect some withdrawal by April 13, the original deadline for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

"We hope this will bring calm to Hebron," Mr. Rabin said of the pact. "I am pleased with the fact that we have managed to overcome the obstacle caused by the despicable murder [in the Tomb of the Patriarchs] and the incidents that followed."

It is unclear whether the obstacle he spoke of actually has been overcome. The massacre seemed to reawaken the Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Demands for the removal of about 450 Jewish settlers from among the 100,000 Arabs living in Hebron also have resulted in a rallying of right-wing settlers, as evidenced by the demonstration yesterday of 5,000 to 10,000 people in Kiryat Arba.

Settlers who live in Hebron and Kiryat Arba said they opposed bringing an international force there.


Highlights of the agreement

* A "temporary international presence" will be established in Hebron, made up of 160 international observers from Norway, Denmark and Italy.

* The troops will carry pistols for self-defense and will report to a newly created joint Israel-Palestinian committee.

* Negotiations on the main peace agreement for limited self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho resume immediately and will be speeded up "with the objective of making up for lost time."

* Israel agrees to shorten its withdrawal schedule from Gaza and Jericho.

* Palestinian policemen will begin moving gradually into Gaza and Jericho starting a week from now to prepare for assuming powers and responsibilities under limited autonomy.