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Israel: Arafat's government encouraged land sale killings

victim June 2, 1997
Web posted at: 1:48 p.m. EDT (1748 GMT)

In this story:

From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Yasser Arafat's government encouraged the killing of Arabs who sold land to Jews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged on Monday. Palestinian officials denied the Palestinian Authority was involved in the killings and called the accusations Israeli propaganda.

Three Arab land dealers have been killed and a fourth has disappeared in the past month following warnings from Palestinian officials that the death penalty should be imposed on those who sell land to Israelis.

Netanyahu

In addition, Arafat's police have prepared a list of 16 other land dealers to be executed, Israeli officials claim.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have arrested six Palestinians who allegedly kidnapped another man suspected of planning to sell land to an Israeli.

Netanyahu called the killings a threat to the peace process, but Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said Israel would continue peace efforts while trying to halt Palestinian "provocations." icon (79 K / 7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

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Death penalty urged in land sales

Last month, Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein urged the death penalty for those who illegally sold land to Israel. There was precedent under Jordanian law which allows someone who sells land to an enemy to be killed.

The Palestinian National Council is considering several proposals to legally prohibit the land sales.

Abu Medein said Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel would be brought to trial.

The Palestinian attorney general, Khaled Kidreh, said Palestinian police have arrested 15 Arabs who would be brought to trial on suspicion of selling land to Jews.

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Land battle is sovereignty issue

At issue in the land battle is control of Jerusalem, a fight that intensified with Netanyahu's decision to build a Jewish housing project on disputed land in Jerusalem.

Arabs see any Israeli real estate deal as a land grab to deny them any claim to title or sovereignty.

"When a Japanese buys land in California, Japan does not exercise sovereignty in California. When the French buy land in New York, the French government does not exercise sovereignty," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Hanan Ashrawi. "But Israel does that."

Commitment to peace debated

The killings have become a public relations debacle for Palestinians, giving hard-line Israelis an opportunity to challenge Arafat's commitment to peace.

"This is an indication that we have growing next door to us, indeed across the street, a very tyrannical ruthless dictatorship," said David Bar Illan, a senior adviser to Netanyahu.

Palestinians, however, argue Israel is using the killings as a diversion.

"Mr. Netanyahu wants to create an issue ... to draw attention away from the problem the peace process is facing," charged Ahmad Qorei, speaker of the Palestinian National Council.

Few Palestinians mourn the death of a real estate agent selling Arab property. Often the agent is seen as a traitor.

In a larger sense, however, the issue is not kidnapping and murder. The violence is all part of the battle for Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza -- a battle which has taken a brutal turn, now that the peace process has broken down.

 
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