Nablus Buries Mayor, Cries for Vengeance

Times Staff Writer

Thousands of mourners cried out for revenge, and youths--their faces hidden in their kaffiyehs-- waved outlawed Palestinian flags Monday as the people of Nablus turned the funeral of their assassinated mayor into one of the largest nationalist demonstrations seen here since Israel occupied the West Bank in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Mayor Zafer Masri was shot to death Sunday morning by a lone gunman just outside his office.

As his mourners carried his shrouded body aloft on a pallet through the streets, accompanied by drums and cymbals, his cousin, Amid Masri, said: "We, the Masris, tried to get the body from them, but the people wouldn't let us. They said, 'He's not yours; he belongs to all of us.' "

Violent Demonstration

Israeli army troops were under orders to stay clear of the funeral march after a demonstration turned violent at the Balata Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of town. The military command said a 57-year-old Arab was killed and his 22-year-old son wounded after the pair allegedly attacked members of an army patrol.

During and after the funeral here, there were scattered incidents involving Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli police cars. Policemen fired into the air and, on at least one occasion recorded by Israeli television, at the stone-throwers. No one was injured.

Most of the crowd's anger seemed to be directed at Palestinian extremists who claimed responsibility for killing Mayor Masri, a popular figure who was considered a political moderate.

"In spirit and blood, we will redeem you!" the crowd shouted repeatedly, using the standard Muslim cry for revenge.

Two hard-line, pro-Syrian groups, the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Abu Nidal's Revolutionary Council of Fatah, both issued statements Sunday announcing that they had killed Masri because he was a traitor to the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian extremists contend that Masri, by replacing an Israeli army officer last December as mayor of this largest city on the West Bank, was aiding an Israeli plot to undermine the movement for genuine Palestinian self-determination.

But Saeb Erakat, a spokesman for Nablus' nationalistic An Najah University, said the people "would not come out like this for a traitor." Erakat marched in the funeral procession with an estimated 10,000 others.

Denunciation of Habash

Hamdi Kanaan, a U.S.-educated construction engineer and member of a prominent Palestinian family in Nablus, said: "I think Nablus should make it clear that George Habash (leader of the Popular Front) or whoever did this is an outcast. He should be sentenced to death on the West Bank, and when we get a Palestinian state, he should be banned from it."

Youths shouted slogans against Syrian President Hafez Assad. "You are a lion in Lebanon and a rabbit on the Golan!" one group chanted, referring to the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria during the 1967 war.

U.S., British and French diplomats, along with others, were on hand to pay respects to the slain mayor's older brother, Hikmat Masri, leader of the Masri clan, and to march in the funeral procession. It wound from the family home on the south side of town to a central mosque and then back to the burial site at a family mosque.

Passed Hand to Hand

Masri's body, wrapped only in a white sheet, was passed from hand to hand over the crowd and placed in a simple tomb of cinder blocks. Workmen later sealed the tomb with mortar.

The Masris are one of Nablus' largest and most prominent families. Hikmat Masri is a former Speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, and a nephew, Taher Masri, is the foreign minister of Jordan.

Zafer Masri, who was 45, was an urbane and wealthy businessman, fluent in English and more comfortable on the ski slopes of Switzerland than in West Bank politics. He agreed reluctantly to become mayor, out of a sense of family duty to the town, and he expected to stay on for no more than a year.

Despite his aversion to politics, Masri, whom the U.S. State Department described Monday as "a leader of stature and integrity," was widely seen as a symbol of efforts to find a new and more moderate Palestinian leadership ready to take part in the Mideast peace process.

Call for New Leaders

He was killed at a time when Jordan's King Hussein was calling for a series of meetings of West Bank Palestinians to either choose a new leadership or else "reconsider the entire system of their political representation."

Two weeks ago, Hussein announced that he was abandoning a yearlong effort to coordinate peace policy with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hussein said the PLO lacks "commitment, credibility and consistency."

Simultaneously, Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel announced a program to extend limited autonomy to the people of the West Bank in what was seen as another effort to encourage development of a leadership alternative to the PLO. In Jerusalem on Monday, Peres told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, that he intends to continue with the plan despite Masri's death.

However, there were signs that the killing was affecting Peres' hopes to name Arab mayors in other major West Bank towns. Jamil Tarifi, 38, a lawyer from El Bireh, just north of Jerusalem, said Monday that he and his associates were reconsidering their application to take over the town government.

At the funeral Monday, slogans were shouted against the Israeli "autonomy" plan and also against Hussein. People chanted, "Down with Hussein!" and "Hussein is a pig!" Several carried photographs of Arafat.

Hanna Siniora, editor of the pro-PLO Jerusalem daily Al Fajr, said the demonstrations at Nablus and Balata were in answer to Hussein's call for new Palestinian leadership. They show, he said, that the residents "are behind the leadership of the PLO."

Other local leaders cautioned that political sentiments here are more complicated than the shouted slogans might indicate.

"We've been sitting here for 19 years waiting for King Hussein and Yasser Arafat to do something," one said. "But to me, they've failed, and it's time to try something new."

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