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Netanyahu Vows to Protect Settlements

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Friday to protect and strengthen Jewish settlements in this volatile city after a prominent rabbi was stabbed to death in an overnight attack.

Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, 63, was killed in his trailer home in a heavily guarded Jewish enclave by an assailant believed to be Palestinian, the Israeli army said. Raanan was the grandson of a spiritual leader of Israel’s settler movement, and his funeral Friday afternoon drew thousands of weeping mourners to the cemetery on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

The Israeli army immediately clamped a curfew on areas of Hebron surrounding the tiny Jewish enclaves, thus confining thousands of Palestinians to their homes. An army spokesman said the curfew was expected to remain in place throughout the Jewish Sabbath, which ends at sundown today.

Netanyahu, who cut short a vacation in northern Israel and returned to Jerusalem on Friday morning, condemned the killing of “a very dear man in a city dear to our hearts” and said the attacker was believed to have fled to somewhere within the West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

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The Israeli leader repeated previous demands that the government of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat increase its efforts to crack down on extremists within its territory and improve security cooperation with Israel. But Netanyahu rejected calls by settler leaders and hard-line lawmakers that Israel immediately halt all contacts with the Palestinians to protest Raanan’s death.

“Negotiations are going on because we demand that the Palestinians fight terror,” he said.

A spokesman for Arafat said that Palestinian police were making efforts to find the person or people responsible for the attack.

Netanyahu also said he had instructed the Israeli army in Hebron to move any Jewish settlers now housed in mobile homes to more permanent structures in order to improve their security and “to show the permanence of Jewish settlement” in the city.

About 500 Jewish settlers live among more than 100,000 Palestinians in the ancient city, which is revered by Jews and Muslims alike as the burial place of the biblical patriarch Abraham. Under terms of last year’s Hebron agreement, the city was divided into areas of Israeli and Palestinian control, but it is the site of frequent confrontations along the separation line.

Palestinians say the presence of the settlers is provocative and the source of the friction in the city.

“We condemn violence from any party,” Palestinian Haidar Jaabari, 52, said here Friday in a typical comment after watching Raanan’s funeral procession pass by on its way to Jerusalem. “But the reason he was killed is because of the settlers’ presence on Arab land.”

Settler leaders said, however, that the latest violence will only strengthen their determination to remain in Hebron and other West Bank settlements.

“The size of Jewish settlements is that which will determine the strength of the state,” said Rabbi Dov Lior of nearby Kiryat Arba. “There can be no siege against Jews in the land of Israel.”


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