- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

JERUSALEM Security has been tightened around Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as a result of death threats from Jewish extremists angered by his efforts to dismantle illegal outposts on the West Bank.

Security officers have asked the defense minister to exercise "maximum caution" in his movements and have increased the number of guards assigned to him.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer had warned Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin seven years ago that conservative extremism could lead to an assassination attempt. Mr. Rabin was fatally shot shortly afterward by a Jewish extremist.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer vowed yesterday to continue his campaign to dismantle illegal outposts put up by settlers. "I am going all the way," he said.

Twenty outposts were removed last week and three more are scheduled to be removed. The fate of six others are pending before the courts.

The outposts generally consist of a few trailers and a generator set up on an isolated hill. Unlike regular settlements, they have not been authorized by the government.

Close to 50 people were injured over the weekend when police and soldiers attempting to dismantle an outpost known as Gilad's Farm were confronted by hundreds of settlers who forcibly resisted. Television images of the clashes shocked the nation and offered a portent of what might come if an Israeli government attempts to evacuate regular settlements in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Some settler leaders were themselves upset by the implications of the violence.

"We've got to examine our own behavior in this episode," said Yehoshua Mor Yosef, spokesman for the Council of Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. "We've got to look at the response to our call for passive resistance. We've lost our balance."

Most of the violence came from young people in their late teens and early 20s, many of them students in talmudical academies. They ignored pleas from their rabbis who came to Gilad's Farm in the expectation of a peaceful protest.

"We've lost control of them," one rabbi told Israel Television, as fistfights between protesters and security forces raged in the background.

A leader of the Settlement Council who tried to restrain the youths had his tires slashed. The demonstrators disabled a bulldozer and a crane truck brought by the army to dismantle structures illegally built on the site.

After the structures were dismantled and 15 settlers arrested for violence, hundreds of others remained on the site and attempted to put the destroyed huts back together. The authorities did not immediately interfere, apparently with the intention of letting passions die down.

Conservative leaders blamed Mr. Ben-Eliezer for the confrontation, claiming that he had violated an agreement that would have permitted a peaceful dismantling of the outpost in order to win points for himself in his bid for re-election as Labor Party leader in primaries next month.

The minister denied there had been any agreement.

Meanwhile, on the eve of a new U.S. mediation mission by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Israel yesterday held off retaliating for a bombing attack on a bus Monday that killed 14 Israelis and two attackers, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under growing pressure to prevent an escalation in fighting as the United States courts moderate Arab countries in preparation for a possible U.S. strike against Iraq.

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