Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided Tuesday to cut short his visit to the United States and return home to cope with the mounting violence here and in the occupied territories before it threatens peace negotiations with the country's Arab neighbors.
Although Rabin had initially felt that the Palestinian attacks upon Israelis and the Israeli revenge attacks upon Palestinians could be contained, he apparently was shaken by their sharp escalation and concluded that his government's control of the situation was slipping rapidly.
On Tuesday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians, one 17 and the other 18, and wounded more than 70 other people in the southern Gaza Strip, as the town of Khan Yunis and a nearby refugee camp exploded in daylong clashes after a homemade bomb was thrown at a patrol and the soldiers opened fire in return.
The body of another Palestinian, a bullet in his head, was found near the West Bank town of Tulkarm; residents claimed the man, 24, had been shot by vigilantes in revenge for the deaths of two Israelis killed Monday in a hit-and-run incident, but the army said the cause of death was under investigation.
Israeli settlers continued their attacks on Palestinian villages on the West Bank, according to local officials, in apparent reprisal for the six Israeli deaths so far this month in the region, the Gaza Strip and Israel itself. Three settlers were arrested, and three more were being sought.
Members of Rabin's governing Labor Party caucused Tuesday, then called for "more dramatic measures" to cope with the deteriorating security situation and the resulting political backlash.
"If the state of Israel wants to reach a political solution (in the Middle East conflict), it has to understand there are enemies to this solution, especially among terrorist organizations, first and foremost the Islamic extremist organizations," Rabin responded in an interview broadcast on state-run Israeli television Tuesday evening from Washington.
"I have no doubt that the terrorist organizations and the enemies of Israel draw encouragement from the fact that this situation creates among Israelis a mood of fear. We in the security forces, of course, must do everything to cope with this situation."
Rabin conferred with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other Cabinet members by telephone, then announced that he would leave Thursday, rather than Sunday, after concluding talks with U.S. officials and meeting with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in New York.
He also met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who expressed concern after the meeting over the mounting violence.
Rabin will have finished the substantive part of his trip by Thursday. He met President Clinton on Monday, emerging from the three-hour session with renewed commitments that U.S. aid to Israel will remain at its current $3-billion-a-year level and that the new Administration will protect Israel's "qualitative edge" over its Arab neighbors through advanced weapons.
On his return Friday, Rabin is expected to respond to demands from across the Israeli political spectrum for sterner steps to halt Palestinian attacks upon Israelis. Peres, as acting prime minister, on Tuesday authorized increased deployment of police and troops.