Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rabbis incite militant Israelis

BROAD OFFENSIVE The ongoing violence along the Gaza Strip threatens to be complemented by a new militancy among Jewish settlers who refuse to be moved

AP AND AFP , JERUSALEM

Israeli Jews blow trumpets during a prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in a demonstration against the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Israeli attack helicopters yesterday targeted Palestinian workshops with missiles in the northern Gaza Strip, lightly wounding six people, in Israel's latest effort to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

Meanwhile, the head of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service warned that Jewish extremists are becoming more militant, as some prominent rabbis encouraged settlers to resist evacuation from their homes.

Israel has launched a broad offensive in northern Gaza following a Palestinian rocket attack early last week that killed two Israelis. Despite the crackdown, militants have continued to fire rockets into Israel.

In two separate attacks early yesterday, helicopters fired six missiles at workshops that the army says Palestinians used to manufacture the crude rockets.

In the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian man was shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers late on Sunday as he was walking down a main road in the southern town of Rafah, Palestinian security and hospital officials said. The officials said the man had no connection to militant groups.

The violence comes as Israel prepares to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and from four isolated settlements in the northern West Bank. The evacuations will affect some 7,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza and about 500 of the 230,000 residents of West Bank settlements.

On Sunday, Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter warned of growing militancy among Jewish extremists who are opposed to the planned withdrawals.

Dichter told a Cabinet meeting that Jewish militants recently turned on an Israeli army officer in Jerusalem because he had helped dismantle a synagogue at an unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost, a government official said.

Several settler leaders have said in recent weeks that they will resist evacuation. Many are religious Jews who believe the West Bank is theirs by divine promise.

Some 1,000 settlers and their supporters, including prominent rabbis and politicians, held a rally on Sunday at the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief rabbi of Israel, led a mass prayer session.

Yitzhak Levy, a politician from the pro-settler National Religious Party, said he did not support violence, but did not rule out the possibility of fighting if the withdrawals proceed.

"The eviction will be tough," he told Israel's Channel Two TV. "But I can't promise it won't be violent, even though we are calling for there not to be violence."

Late Sunday, Israeli Attorney General Meni Mazuz called on rabbis and other public leaders "to exercise extreme caution and restraint in their comments."

Mazuz said he would meet with Dichter, and top police and legal officials in the coming days to discuss ways to combat incitement.

Last month, settler leader Uri Elitzur, who was a top aide of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said violent resistance to settlement evacuations is legitimate.

Last week, an eminent rabbi in Jerusalem said that anyone who removes Jewish settlements would be subject to the death penalty under biblical Jewish law, although he said the death sentence isn't possible in modern times.

Israeli security officials confirmed the Shin Bet has grown concerned.

They said their main concern is the threat of assassination. In 1995, then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to his peace efforts.

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