Israel Arrests 30 Linked to Terrorist Cell on West Bank and Blows Up Five Houses

Times Staff Writer

The Israeli government said Friday that it has broken up an Arab terrorist cell near here, arresting 30 men and blowing up five of their houses.

An army spokesman said the arrested men had carried out the murder last February of an Israeli soldier and that the murder weapon had been found in one of the suspects' homes.

The arrested men are also charged with killing an Arab two weeks ago for collaborating with the Israelis and for planting a grenade on a truck carrying gas bottles in the Israeli city of Rehovot late last year.

The destruction of houses is a method commonly used by the Israelis to punish alleged terrorists and to intimidate neighborhoods into refusing to shield suspects.

Efforts Intensify

The move by Israeli security forces came as Jewish settlers in the territories intensified their often-violent efforts against hundreds of convicted terrorists who were paroled into the area earlier this week.

The settlers are protesting an agreement that allowed more than 1,000 Palestinian and Lebanese guerrillas, some of them serving sentences for mass murder, to go free in exchange for the release of three Israeli soldiers held by a radical Palestinian organization.

About 600 of the Arabs were permitted to return to their homes on the occupied West Bank or in Israel proper, setting off daily protests and demonstrations in an effort to drive the released men out of the country.

The most violent and most frequent actions have occurred near Hebron, an Arab city of about 45,000 where a small group of Jewish religious extremists has settled to reclaim land lost in Arab attacks a half-century ago.

'Death to Murderers'

The latest incident came Friday when followers of radical Rabbi Moshe Levinger drove to a Hebron-area village where some of the released terrorists live. Eyewitnesses and police said the settlers drove through town, honking their horns, chanting "Death to the murderers," and then broke car windows.

At one point, the armed settlers fired their semiautomatic rifles into the air and one man shot at a house where one of the former prisoners lives. The demonstration broke up after police arrived. There were no arrests.

Other tactics have included pinning pictures of the released men on town walls, hanging dead dogs on door fronts and smearing blood on homes. "We've decided that we will not rest until all terrorists whose hands are stained with blood leave the country," one settlers' group leader said.

There also have been repeated incidents of violence or near-violence around Nablus, another Arab city in the northern area of the West Bank where large numbers of Jews have settled in recent years.

Students Carry M-16s

Roadblocks go up nearly every day, often manned by Jewish high school students carrying M-16 automatic rifles. And reports that Arabs have stoned an Israeli bus or threatened an Israeli can trigger a response by armed squads of settlers who rush to the area and sometimes threaten Arabs living nearby.

The efforts of the angry settlers have resulted in some successes. Two convicted murderers have fled into Jordan from their homes in the village of Elon Moreh, southeast of Bethlehem, after constant intimidation. A third man, also sentenced for murder, has asked Israeli police for protection. Arab leaders say the local Israeli civilian governor recommended that the man leave the country because his safety could not be guaranteed.

The settlers, through their spokesmen, protest being described as lawless or unjust. They point out that the two men driven out of Elon Moreh were convicted and sentenced to life for stabbing a young man to death and that the third man had planned the murder. "We're worried about the murderers going around freely," said Gershon Mesika, an Elon Moreh settlement leader, "and 80 of them are in this area alone."

Mesika and several others pointed out that the Arab men arrested Friday in Ramallah had hidden several weapons and large quantities of ammunition. "These are not idealistic children. They are killers of children and innocent civilians," a Ramallah settler said.

Army Role Criticized

The army, which administers the occupied territories, is accused by some Israeli critics of doing little to prevent the settlers' anti-terrorist terrorism, of looking the other way when the settlers enter Arab neighborhoods or of managing to arrive at the scene of a disturbance only after it is well under way.

However, high-ranking officers deny the charges and Lt. Gen. Amnon Shachak, who commands the central part of Israel and the West Bank, said Friday that "the Israeli army will not permit anyone to take the law into their own hands." He added that the situation is very explosive.

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