- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israel's security Cabinet agreed yesterday to step up the killing of Palestinian militants, participants said, in spite of U.S. criticism of the policy of targeting individuals for assassination.
The decision reportedly clears the way for Israeli security forces to target not only "ticking bombs" — people involved in an imminent terror attack — but anyone involved in recruiting suicide bombers, preparing explosives or planning attacks, even if they are not presently engaged in a specific operation.
Israeli radio said security forces would now train their sights on more militants than before and toughen their responses to "terrorist attacks."
According to the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, there are 26 persons on a list of potential targets drawn up by security agencies.
While the 13-member security Cabinet was meeting, a Palestinian was shot and wounded by two men in civilian clothes in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Hazem Natsche, 23, a member of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, was quoted by Reuters news agency saying that Israeli forces had been searching for him for eight months and that he believed Palestinians working for Israel had shot him.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said the military had no knowledge of the incident.
Also yesterday, Palestinian gunmen fatally shot an Israeli civilian near Israel's border with the West Bank. Both Israeli and Palestinian officials said the man appeared to have been killed in a personal dispute unrelated to the region's political violence.
The Bush administration said Monday the Palestinians had not done enough to "fight terror" but also expressed strong opposition to Israel's "policy of targeted killings."
But Israeli authorities, who describe the policy as "active defense," said they would "reserve the right to self-defense, meaning to shoot terrorists, attackers on their way to an attack inside Israeli territory."
However, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said, "If a cease-fire is to have any meaning, [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon cannot insist on Israel's unilateral right to commit murder."
Israel on Sunday signaled a return to the policy when a helicopter gunship rocketed a car, killing three Palestinian militants. Palestinians say some 40 activists have been picked off since the uprising began.
But Israeli authorities bristle at the use of the word "assassination" to describe the killings. Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told Army Radio that assassination was a term used by Israel's enemies.
Yesterday's Cabinet decision was a compromise between the hard-line approach advocated by several ministers who would dramatically increase the number of killings and strike at the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority and the policy of restraint urged by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Mr. Sharon took a relatively centrist position, participants in the meeting said.
"The problem is that we tend to see things in only two sizes — extra large or small," one quoted him as saying. "But there's also medium."
Although there has been violence every day since the American-brokered cease-fire was supposed to have gone into effect last week, neither side is willing to be the first to pronounce it dead.
Mr. Arafat says that irrespective of the violence, the timetable set by the United States for renewed negotiations has been set in motion. Mr. Sharon, however, says the clock will not start running until there are seven days free of violence.
At a heated meeting of the inner "kitchen Cabinet" on Tuesday, Mr. Peres warned that an aggressive policy toward the Palestinians would cost Israel critical international support.
He succeeded in persuading Mr. Sharon to desist from direct attacks on Palestinian Authority targets such as security installations, which have frequently been hit in the past.
Israeli troops will also be more restrained in reacting to Palestinian shooting. Security forces are to adhere for the most part to low-profile, guerrilla-type actions that draw less attention from the media.
Mr. Peres condemned the personal attacks made on Mr. Arafat in recent weeks by Mr. Sharon and other ministers.
"Arafat regards this as a threat upon his life," he said. "It is a mistake to delegitimize him."
The foreign minister said it was urgent to ease economic pressure on the Palestinians, not increase it.
"They have close to 40 percent unemployment, there is bottomless hatred [toward Israel] by people who have nothing to lose, and we have brought them to this." If the cease-fire collapses, he warned, it would bring "fire and blood."
He warned that he would resign unless illegal outposts put up by settlers in the West Bank in recent weeks are dismantled.
Although Mr. Peres' position is often in conflict with Mr. Sharon's policies, the prime minister has thus far been willing to bend over backward in order to keep Mr. Peres, with his respected international standing, in his national unity government.

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