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Israelis Hunt for Rifle; Elderly Jew Slain

Times Staff Writer

Israeli soldiers shut down parts of the occupied Gaza Strip on Tuesday while they searched for a lost rifle, and an Arab stabbed and killed an elderly Jewish man in usually quiet Tel Aviv before he himself was shot and arrested by the police.

The search for the rifle, which took place in the Rimal and Sabra neighborhoods of Gaza City, reflected Israeli concern about Palestinians having arms--even a single rifle.

The stabbing in Tel Aviv showed just how difficult it is, even with stringent precautions, to control the increasingly unpredictable violence, which is no longer confined to the volatile occupied territories.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, appearing at a press conference Tuesday and pointing to the Tel Aviv stabbing as an example of the security problems faced by Israel, asked, “What can we do if not defend ourselves?”

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The missing rifle was said to have been dropped Monday by a soldier during a stone-throwing attack by Arabs trying to drive an army patrol out of their neighborhood. When it was learned that the rifle was missing, the army told residents they would be placed under curfew until it was returned.

In the Tel Aviv incident, the elderly Israeli was attacked by a 30-year-old Arab from the Jabaliya refugee camp while leaving his parked car. The Arab, who has not been identified by name, shouted the Muslim cry “God is great!” as he stabbed the victim twice.

It was an unusual incident for Tel Aviv, which has been virtually untouched by the Arab uprising.

“I saw a young Arab with a commando knife,” a witness told Israel Army Radio. “He was running amok, like crazy.”

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Another witness said: “I was sitting in my office, and I heard my secretary shouting, ‘Come outside; someone has been murdered.’ ”

The victim died not long afterward.

The assailant, holding a large kitchen knife, ran around a corner and wounded two passers-by. Still shouting words from the Koran, the Muslim holy book, he climbed to a roof and hurled tanks of cooking gas into the street.

Police officers shot him the legs and arrested him. He is being treated at the same hospital as the two surviving victims, Israel Radio said. The two Israelis were reported to be in fair condition.

Since the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip began more than 15 months ago, about 400 Arabs have been killed, along with 15 Israelis.

Stabbings have become more frequent in the last month. Arabs say they reflect a growing frustration among the rebellious population over the Arab death toll and the lack of diplomatic progress by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In Jerusalem, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, rounded up about 40 members of what the government described as a terrorist cell. Government radio said the suspects were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a hard-line faction of the PLO.

A government spokesman said the 40 were responsible for numerous rock and gasoline-bomb attacks on Jerusalem buses.

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