Israel Warns Palestinian Commanders


Sunday, October 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel warned the Palestinians on Sunday that it might target their commanders if violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not stop within a day, and that it would then view peace talks as ``abandoned.''

Touring the border with Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was briefed on the capture of three soldiers by Hezbollah Lebanese guerrillas the day before. Barak said he held Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, ultimately responsible for ensuring calm on the border.

Barak said he was pessimistic about a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but that ``we are stretching our hand for peace.''

The Palestinians did not say if they would consider Barak's ultimatum. They blamed Israel for the violence, saying its troops used excessive force in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters that have left 82 people dead, mostly Palestinians.

``If he (Barak) really wants to go towards peace, instead of threatening, he should pull out of our cities, our heavily populated areas,'' Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told CNN. ``Let's go to negotiations without the inflammation of an attacking army.''

President Clinton, trying to prevent his Mideast policy from disintegrating, repeatedly spoke by phone to Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Senior Israeli officials said Clinton was trying to arrange a summit Tuesday, but U.S. State Department officials said they had no such information.

In a news conference on the northern border, Barak repeated his ultimatum that Arafat bring violence to an end by Monday evening, the end of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

``If we will not see the difference, actively implemented, on the ground, and a calming down of the situation really occurring, we will draw the conclusion that Arafat deliberately has decided to abandon the negotiations,'' Barak said.

His National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, said that if the deadline is not met, Israeli troops would no longer just react.

``We could ... as far as I am concerned, even attack the headquarters of those responsible for the situation,'' Dayan told Israel radio. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel had barely used ``one percent'' of its force in dealing with the Palestinians.

Israel was already ratcheting up the pressure.

Before dawn Sunday, the Israeli military Sunday blew up two multi-story apartment buildings and another building near the Netzarim junction in Gaza that has been the focus of riots and gun battles. The military said it cleared an area of several dozen yards around the fortified position to prevent attacks, the statement said.

In the West Bank, the Israelis sent attack helicopters into Hebron for the first time, blasting hilltop positions used by Palestinians to fire on the Jewish settler enclave below.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, an Israeli army commander advised Palestinians in houses near the Jewish settlement of Psagot to leave their homes.

For several days, Palestinians have been firing at the settlement from the houses, and Col. Gal Hirsch, who commands Israeli forces in the region, said the army would not show restraint should the gunfire start again.

``We will use all we have in the army arsenal,'' he said, surveying the high-rise apartment buildings across the valley.

In a sign of possible conciliation, Israeli commander in the south met with Palestinian security officials in talks chaired by CIA officials.

Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia said an understanding was emerging with the Palestinians on four points: a cease-fire, an opening of the roads near Netzarim, an end to broadcast incitement on official Palestinian media, and a stop to the release of radicals from Palestinian prisons.

Palestinian officials could not be reached to confirm the deal, but previous agreements since the violence started on Sept. 28 have collapsed within hours.

Sneh, the deputy defense minister, said Israel was ready to fight on two fronts, in the Palestinian areas and along the Lebanese border, if necessary.

``We have enough strength for that. We shall have to be less restrained than we were in the past,'' Sneh said.

Israeli warplanes flew over Beirut and Sidon, the main city in southern Lebanon, where the overflights drew some anti-aircraft fire by Lebanese forces. Israel ferried hundreds of troops, including special forces, to the frontier, and Cabinet minister Binyanim Ben-Eliezer said Lebanon would pay ``a heavy price'' if the captives were not returned quickly.

Lebanese officials were contacting Red Cross officials trying to arrange a swap of the three Israelis for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Israeli officials have rejected swapping two jailed Lebanese Shiite leaders sought by Hezbollah.

The rioting in the Palestinian territories began Sept. 28 when Ariel Sharon, the leader of the hard-line Likud opposition party, visited a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews.

With anger and apprehension rising, by-standers have increasingly come under attack. Israeli Arabs stoned cars late Saturday night on the coastal highway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Police said one Jewish man, 55, died after a stone hit him in the chest.

An Israeli settler shot and killed a Palestinian late Saturday night near the Palestinian town of Bidya, not far from the West Bank settlement of Ariel, where Palestinians and settlers had exchanged fire, the military said. It was not clear if the victim was involved in the gun battle. Earlier, settlers had blocked major roads in the West Bank, burning debris and stoning Arab motorists.

In the Israeli town of Tiberias, home to one of the seized Israeli soldiers, hundreds of residents chanted ``Death to the Arabs'' and set fire to a mosque that local Arabs had hoped to renovate and reopen for use. Shots were fired at Palestinian homes in an Arab area of Jerusalem, and Arabs living in the Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv were also targeted for stoning.

Gunmen fired on an Israeli bus in Gaza, injuring seven passengers, two seriously