JERUSALEM — The Israeli Cabinet rejected a recommendation today for a government inquiry into the deaths of two Palestinians captured in a 1984 bus hijacking and the alleged involvement of the Shin Bet internal security service.
The coalition Cabinet split along partisan lines in its 14-11 vote against setting up a commission of inquiry.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his right-wing Likud bloc prevailed in the Cabinet vote, seen as a test of wills between Likud and the Labor Party of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
With Atty. Gen. Yosef Harish's recommendation for a commission of inquiry ruled out, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Beilin said a police investigation of the Arabs' deaths would now be held.
Harish will tell the Supreme Court Tuesday that he is ordering a police investigation into the killings of the Palestinians and an alleged cover-up by security and government officials, Beilin said.
Harish had warned government ministers Sunday that he would order the police inquiry if they did not approve a government investigation. (Story, Page 6.)
On July 1, the court gave the government two weeks to explain why it has not ordered a new investigation into the killings of two Palestinian bus hijackers. They were among four Arabs who seized a bus south of Tel Aviv on April 12, 1984, and forced it to the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.
Two hijackers were killed when army troops stormed the bus the next day. The army initially said the two captured Arabs died in the assault, but investigators later said they were taken to an open field and beaten to death--presumably by agents from the Shin Bet.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Sunday that if the government opted for a state inquiry, the commission could then order formal charges against Shin Bet officials.
"The commission can recommend or order, if there was a violation of the law, to file formal charges," Rabin said.
Prime Minister Peres told the Knesset, Israel's parliament, this month that he would honor any order for a new inquiry into the Shin Bet scandal.
But Peres' rightist Likud bloc coalition partners opposed such a move. Foreign Minister Shamir, the Likud leader, was prime minister when the men were killed and has been accused of sanctioning a cover-up.
Likud leaders have accused the Labor Party of pushing for an investigation in hopes of bringing down the government and forcing elections before Oct. 25, when Shamir and Peres are scheduled to switch posts under a job-rotation agreement.