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Israeli officials cite security concerns amid settler unrest

Khalil is a Times staff writer.

Israel’s top domestic security official reportedly warned Sunday that radical Jewish settlers might target Israeli leaders for assassination in order to scuttle any peace proposal that involves ceding occupied West Bank land to the Palestinians.

Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, told Cabinet members Sunday that he was “very concerned” that settlers and their supporters would “use firearms in order to halt diplomatic processes and harm political leaders,” the Associated Press reported, according to an account from a participant at the meeting.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert devoted much of the weekly Cabinet meeting to the settler issue, promising a crackdown on lawlessness.

“Attacking soldiers and their commanders, attacking policemen and other security personnel, and injuring them are unacceptable,” said Olmert, according to a transcript released by the government.

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He praised most settlers as law-abiding, blaming a series of recent clashes on “a not-small group of wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance.”

Warnings from Israeli leaders about the dangers of radicalism are commonplace each year around the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Rabin, who was demonized by some right-wingers as a traitor to Israel for signing the Oslo peace accords, was killed Nov. 4, 1995. His unrepentant assassin, Yigal Amir, recently made headlines after two Israeli television channels conducted phone interviews with him from prison.

The channels aired brief excerpts late last week, but plans to air the full interview were scrapped after a widespread outcry. Amir said he killed Rabin because he opposed the prime minister’s intentions to hand over land for peace.

Tensions have been rising for months between the Israeli government and a newly aggressive generation of settlers, who vow to continue the expansion of unauthorized “outpost” settlements throughout the West Bank. The settlers have also clashed frequently with Palestinians, often putting Israeli soldiers in the difficult position of trying to separate the two sides while avoiding a confrontation with the settlers.

The Israeli government considers the outposts, which can be as small as a single trailer, to be illegal, unlike the legally sanctioned settlements throughout the West Bank that house an estimated 300,000 settlers. The International Court of Justice and much of the world community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank, seized in the 1967 Middle East War, to be illegal.

Olmert on Sunday promised a crackdown on settler violence, including an increased army presence and more vigorous prosecution of settlers who attack or abuse Israeli forces.

Israeli soldiers play a cat-and-mouse game with activist settlers, often dismantling outposts only to see them rebuilt once they leave.

Settlers, soldiers and Palestinians clashed Sunday in Hebron after the Israeli army shut down an outpost Thursday.

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com


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