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7 Letter Bombs Sent to Israelis; 1 Explodes, Injuring 2 Men

Times Staff Writer

A letter bomb that exploded Wednesday and the discovery of six other similar bombs in different parts of Israel and the occupied West Bank prompted officials to put the postal system on alert and police to issue a general warning over Israeli radio.

Two men--a Jew and an Arab from the occupied Gaza Strip--were slightly injured when they opened one of the letters in a suburb near Tel Aviv.

It was the first such influx of letter bombs here since 1972, according to postal officials, and it immediately triggered speculation that it was the work of Palestinian terrorists.

However, a Foreign Ministry official said it is “premature” to fix blame for the incident and added that to do so would be “irresponsible.” Other sources suggested that the bombs could be the work of one mentally deranged individual.

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Officials said all seven letter bombs discovered so far were mailed from Turkey and contained a pre-printed return address in the name of “D. Nissim.” Israeli and Turkish intelligence services were understood to be cooperating in an investigation.

Time of High Tension

The letter bombs, which were all postmarked Dec. 23, arrived at a time of high tension here after the most widespread unrest in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The army confirmed Wednesday that a 17-year-old Gaza Strip youth wounded during a clash at the Jabaliya refugee camp Dec. 21 had died Tuesday night in an Israeli hospital. The youth, identified as Mustafa Issa Albek, became the 22nd officially acknowledged fatal victim of army gunfire during this month’s unrest. At least 160 more Palestinians have been wounded in that time, and Arab sources put the casualty figures higher.

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There has been relative calm in the territories for the last week, but security forces are bracing for a possible renewal of trouble in connection with Friday’s anniversary of the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s dominant Fatah wing, headed by Yasser Arafat.

The army is sending more reinforcements into the territories to stop any new disturbances as quickly as they might start. And Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin pledged in an interview published Tuesday that “under no circumstances will we allow events of the last weeks to repeat themselves.”

Inner Cabinet Meets

The government’s so-called Inner Cabinet of senior ministers met Wednesday to discuss security precautions and the general situation in the territories and among Israel’s 700,000 Arab citizens.

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It had been expected that the ministers would also discuss a reported proposal to deport up to 20 Palestinians in the wake of the unrest, a move strongly opposed by the United States as a violation of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. However, there was no immediate word here on what, if anything, the Cabinet had decided on the matter.

Meanwhile, the army proceeded with its speedy military trials of young Palestinians accused of taking part in the unrest, according to the Associated Press. About 1,000 suspects have been detained and military officials have accelerated the pace of the trials to quell further unrest and hasten possible deportations.

Rabin and other Israeli officials now acknowledge that the violent unrest that erupted in the territories Dec. 9 was local and spontaneous in its origins. However, they and foreign observers as well say that Palestinian nationalist organizations abroad moved quickly to encourage and capitalize on the disturbances once they began, hoping to gain maximum world attention for the Palestinian cause.

Israeli forces last week captured three Palestinian gunmen immediately after they had infiltrated across the Jordan River into northern Israel on what the army said was a “terrorist” mission connected with Friday’s anniversary. And Israeli institutions here and abroad are on a heightened state of alert.

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Postal officials said the letter bombs were enclosed in “singing” Christmas cards, which contain a microchip music box that plays a carol when the card is opened. Three were discovered Tuesday in Kiryat Arba, known as perhaps the most militant of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Three others were discovered Wednesday at postal facilities in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

Those envelopes and contents were all detonated by police bomb experts.

The card that exploded was addressed to Zion Asher of Or Yehuda, also near Tel Aviv. Israel radio quoted Aviva Asher, Zion’s wife, as saying that the 10-inch-by-6-inch white envelope arrived in the mail Wednesday morning, and that because her husband did not expect any mail from Turkey, he only tore a corner to peek inside.

She said they decided the delivery must have been a mistake and gave the envelope to her husband’s brother, David Asher, to return to the post office. Instead, he apparently opened the card, causing it to explode. He suffered burned hands and damage to his eardrums and was taken to a local hospital.

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A 19-year-old Arab worker from Gaza with Asher at the time was also slightly injured.

No Connections Noted

There was no immediate indication of any connection among the addressees or of why the letter bombs may have been mailed to them.

Yitzhak Taub, general director of Israel’s postal service, said postal employees throughout the country have been placed on alert. And the police have warned all residents to check their mail carefully and not to allow children to handle it.

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