For Palestinians, a sense of going nowhere West Bank seethes under Israeli lockdown


RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Nasi Sayid offered up the keys to his taxi while he dawdled over a falafel sandwich.

"Here, you can take the taxi. I can go nowhere with it," said Mr. Sayid. He was one of more than a million Palestinians confined by Israel's crackdown after four terrorist bombings that have left 60 people dead in Israel since Feb. 25.

Soldiers kept Palestinians from entering or leaving 465 West Bank towns and villages yesterday, as Israeli and Palestinian police continued to arrest hundreds of people suspected of having ties to radical Islamic fundamentalist groups.

Palestinian police in Gaza raided Islamic University, the stronghold of the political wing of Hamas, as well as mosques and welfare societies run by the fundamentalist group. The raids were an escalation of the crackdown Israel had demanded of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, but Shimon Peres, Israel's prime minister, said it still is not enough.

"He's doing more than before," Mr. Peres said on Israel Television. "But until he brings in the commanders of Hamas' military wing, I will not be satisfied."

In the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli police made more than 200 arrests yesterday, officials said. Palestinian police in Gaza said they have made 400 arrests in the past few days.

Israel announced that it had arrested an Israeli Arab who accepted $1,100 to transport from Gaza to Tel Aviv the suicide bomber who killed himself and 13 others Monday. The man brought the bomber in a truck hauling scrap metal, police said.

Reports yesterday in the Israeli news media said Israel is preparing to deport arrested Hamas activists. And an Israeli minister said Israel will go after leaders of Islamic radical groups.

"We intend to hit all the leaders of Hamas," Israeli Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on Israel radio.

Israel's clampdown on movement in the West Bank was the toughest since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when Palestinians, whose leadership supported Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, were virtually confined to their homes for more than three months.

Israeli soldiers refused to let Palestinians go from their communities to jobs, schools, or even to hospitals. Ambulances were turned back at checkpoints.

This Palestinian town near Jerusalem was almost a ghost town, deprived of people from surrounding villages who usually come to buy and sell in the commercial center. Most shops were closed.

"There's no business. Nobody is here," said Samir Ahmad, who was minding a falafel shop empty but for the idled taxi driver.

The restrictions were a blunt reminder to Palestinians of the limitations of the autonomy won in the 1993 peace accord with Israel. The clampdown yesterday was more strict than the closures imposed periodically by Israel during its occupation of the West Bank.

Hundreds of Israeli army checkpoints went up overnight in the West Bank, even blocking back roads used by Palestinians to circumvent the usual roadblocks.

At Bir Zeit University, a campus usually busy with 3,500 students north of Ramallah, gates were closed and classrooms empty yesterday.

"The bottom line is, nobody can get here from anywhere at all," said Nigel Perry, one of the few staff members who managed to reach the university. "I've never seen anything like it.

"I can understand the pain in Israel. Nobody can fail to be moved by the carnage," he said. "But most people resent being collectively punished. Israel seems to be hoping people blame Hamas, but the reality is, they hold Israel responsible for this closure."

At Jifna, a village north of Bir Zeit, a dozen men passed the afternoon at a table with tea and arak, a local liquor. They were barred from going into Ramallah for their jobs, the men said.

"We reject the bombs. But we also reject being punished for something we didn't do," said Rami Rabia, 34. "They want to give the image to all the world that we are terrorists. We're not," he said. "In Israel, they never ask why these bombs happened. When you put pressure on somebody and squeeze them and squeeze them, eventually they blow up. They take our land, close us in, make sure we can't go anywhere without permission. What kind of peace is this?"

Palestinian and Israeli police made arrests throughout the day.

"We placed a curfew and we arrested every male in the villages of Al Fawar and Burka [near Nablus] for interrogation," said Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran, an Israeli army commander. "The men were gathered and sorted, and all those suspected of aiding the terrorists were arrested. This is what we will do without mercy to any village and town where we suspect there are terrorists." "They arrest anyone who ever shook the hand" of a suspected suicide bomber, complained Faris Haji, a Palestinian policeman from Burka.

Mr. Haji took out his wallet and unfolded a small, lined piece of paper on which he had written his resignation from the police force. He is ready to hand in the paper, he said.

"It's a miserable situation. This is all nonsense," he said of the Israeli crackdown.

Israeli police declined to release the name of the man charged with giving a ride to the attacker who exploded a bomb Monday in Tel Aviv. Police said they know the name of the attacker, but have not released it.

The most recent suicide bomber set off his charge one minute after he was dropped off on Dizengoff Street in the center of Tel Aviv, police said. Police officials said they believe the scrap metal dealer who transported the man knew his passenger's intentions, judging from the high price he charged for the ride.

Israeli Police Minister Moshe Shahal revealed yesterday more details of the plan for a "separation line" between Israelis and Palestinians. The line would be a strip about 2,000 yards wide, running nearly 200 miles. It would be fenced in some places, with electronic sensors in others, he said.

The separation line would run roughly along the 1948 boundaries between Israel and the West Bank, but would skirt Jerusalem.

The line would be declared a "closed military area" barred to all except those who pass at gates.

"Anyone who enters the area will be considered to be coming to commit a crime, either theft or a security crime, and will be jTC treated accordingly," he said.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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