Settlers, Cabinet members try to scuttle Hebron deal
U.S.-led talks drag on
January 3, 1997
Web posted at: 11:50 a.m. EST (1650 GMT)
In this story:
BEIT EL, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu faced pressure on two fronts Friday aimed at
scuttling an emerging deal on extending Palestinian self-rule
to the West Bank town of Hebron.
In defiance of their government, Jewish settlers from Beit El
-- near Palestinian-ruled Ramallah -- moved seven mobile homes onto Artis Hill in the occupied West Bank and said they
were going to build a thousand new homes outside their
"This is a protest action," said Aharon Domb, spokesman for
the Jewish settler umbrella group Yesha.
Police and soldiers fanned out near the hill, but the
settlers left voluntarily Friday afternoon. Israel army radio
said the trailers would be removed Sunday. In exchange,
settler leaders were to meet with Defense Minister Yitzhak
Mordechai to discuss further construction.
Also Friday, three more Netanyahu Cabinet ministers said they
might not vote for the yet-to-be-finalized Hebron agreement.
The rebellion of the hard-liners came as Palestinian
negotiators said that despite U.S. pressure, they would not
sign the Hebron deal until Israel commits to a September 1997
deadline for withdrawing its troops from most of the West
Bank. Israel has said it will not do so.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak raised another new
obstacle in the Hebron talks Friday, saying Arabs and Muslims
must have a role in protecting the city's Muslim shrine.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs (known to Muslims as the Shrine of
Ibrahim) is in an area of Hebron which is to remain under
Israeli control after a troop pullback.
Meantime, the United States said on Thursday it had received
threats of increased terrorist attacks over the next two
weeks in Israel and the West Bank and warned Americans there
to exercise caution.
Pro and con reaction to protest
Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the mobile home
protest, carried out under cover of darkness.
In Gaza City, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu
Rudeineh demanded that Israel immediately remove the
settlers, saying their "action seriously threatens the peace
The settlers said their protest was a response to
Palestinians killing a Jewish mother and her son last month.
They also said it was their right to build anywhere within
the borders of biblical Israel.
In addition to those in the seven mobile homes, about 200
settlers gathered at the site near Ramallah.
Hebron deal near or not?
As U.S.-mediated Hebron talks drag on, at least seven senior
ministers have now told Netanyahu they will not support his
peace agreement with the Palestinians.
President Clinton's Mideast envoy, Dennis Ross, has been
trying to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority President Yasser Arafat . But at a Thursday night
meeting, Ross and Arafat were unable to accomplish that.
Israel radio said Ross hinted he would return to Washington
if the two sides didn't budge soon.
They may vote no
One of Netanyahu's strongest supporters, Justice Minister
Tzahi Hanegbi, said Thursday night that he too would vote
against a Hebron deal if Netanyahu commits to a timetable for
a troop withdrawal from West Bank rural areas.
Israel radio said two ministers of the religious Shas Party
who initially supported the agreement now were considering
abstaining or voting no.
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.
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