Pullout may incite Sharon assassination — Katsav

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) — Israeli President Moshe Katsav said on Monday the vocal opposition of pro-settler rabbis to Israel’s Gaza pullout could incite ultranationalists to try to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“In the struggle over the disengagement someone is likely to distort the rabbis’ messages,” Katsav told army Radio.

The result, he said, could be “extremist actions” and “the distorted conclusion that to prevent Israel’s destruction, one must assassinate the prime minister.”

The Shin Bet security service on Sunday measured Sharon and members of his Cabinet for bulletproof vests, a sign of increasing fears of violence against Israeli leaders ahead of the pullout due to begin in mid-August.

In recent weeks, some pro-settler rabbis have sharpened their rhetoric against the withdrawal from land they see as a biblical birthright, condemning it as a violation of Jewish law and a danger to Israel’s existence.

Such talk has revived memories of verbal attacks on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination in 1995 by an ultra-rightist Jew opposed to his peace moves with Palestinians.

Jewish settler leaders have called for passive resistance to the planned evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank.

Hoping to sharpen that message, right-wing legislator Effi Eitam said on Israel Radio he planned to meet rabbis and settlers to draft a charter of non-violence to avoid clashes with Israeli soldiers during the pullout.

“In this charter we will have a clause specifying there cannot be any (settler) weapons in the evacuation area. We are trying to ensure that even if the atmosphere heats up there will be a good chance of preventing a disaster,” Eitam said.

Weapons collection

Israeli security officials have said they plan to collect the army-issued weapons carried by many of the 8,500 settlers facing evacuation.

“We have instructed the security forces in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank to act with zero patience and zero tolerance towards any act of violence or lawbreaking,” Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a speech in Tel Aviv.

Last week, ultranationalists threw rocks at Israeli soldiers who evicted them from an abandoned house they had seized in a Palestinian neighbourhood adjoining a Jewish settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip.

During the violence, radical Jews stoned a Palestinian youth in what an Israeli general described as an attempted lynching.

“A Palestinian boy was lying there wounded and they were throwing rocks at him while an Israeli soldier tried to protect him. We cannot tolerate such sights. It violates the Ten Commandments,” Katsav said.

An 18-year-old Jewish settler suspected of being a ringleader in the stoning was remanded at a Beersheva court. Police were looking for two other suspects.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas invited groups to join the Cabinet to forge a unity government that would help him control Gaza after Israel’s pullout. But leading faction Hamas rebuffed his call on Monday.

Hamas Spokesman Mushir Al Masri said “forming a unity government at this late time will not be useful.”

He said Hamas had not yet made a formal decision, but considered the invitation a ploy to avoid a commitment to hold quick elections for parliament in which Hamas is poised to mount a serious challenge to Abbas’ Fateh movement.

Bringing in Hamas, a grassroots Islamist faction commanding considerable sway in Gaza, would help Abbas preserve a fragile ceasefire by groups, keep order during the pullout and avoid a subsequent security vacuum.

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