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Pregnant Israeli Settler Is Killed in West Bank : Mideast: Islamic resistance group claims responsibility. Death is 29th since peace accord.

February 20, 1994|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ARIEL, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — Zipporah Sasson died here early Saturday, gunned down in a car next to her husband and her two children. The family was only two miles from home on the narrow highway from Tel Aviv when two bursts of machine-gun fire from a parked vehicle alongside the road caught her in the head and stomach.

The young mother lay dying in the car as her husband drove madly for the nearest army post. By 3 a.m. at a nearby hospital, her heart stopped beating.

As dawn broke, the Islamic resistance organization Hamas announced that Sasson, 30 years old and five months pregnant, had become the latest statistic in the increasingly bloody land struggle between Jewish settlers and Arab activists.

"Hamas will turn every day into hell for the Israelis," said a leaflet issued by the group, announcing its responsibility for the attack.

By midday, an uneasy crowd of settlers had gathered around the municipal headquarters of Ariel, the largest Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, demanding increased protection--and answers--from the top military commanders in the area. Another restive group lit a bonfire of protest where the shooting occurred.

Sasson was the 29th Israeli to die in the violence that has erupted since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a peace agreement last September.

Faced with an Israeli government that has signaled some willingness to re-evaluate the fate of Jewish settlements, many residents of Ariel used Saturday's attack to reflect on their future: Who will give out first? The government, which has officially vowed to protect all Jewish settlements over the next five years? The Arabs, in the hope of quelling violence in their ranks and making peace? Or, faced with mounting doubts and spiraling violence, the settlers themselves?

"First of all, I can tell you I feel pain. Lots of pain. A young woman whose two children are with her in the car, I just wonder how could they feel when they see their mother getting killed in front of their faces?" said Yael Steinfeld, an Ariel resident for 16 years.

"Second, I feel fear. I am a mother. What am I going to tell my children? That I can't even promise them safety? That they have to stay in the house and never leave?" she said. "And finally, anger. I came here because the government told me I could live here in safety. I was very proud to come here. . . .

"Now, in some places I don't even want to say where I live. People look at me like I've taken an Arab's house. That I'm the reason there won't be peace. I want peace just like anyone else. But I feel like I'm in a trap."

Most of Ariel's 14,000 Israelis do not see occupation of biblical lands as a religious duty. They do feel politically committed to Israeli settlement of the West Bank, but mostly they came here because it was quiet, cheap and within commuting distance of Tel Aviv.

Saturday's attack came on a usually safe road populated with Arab merchants who serve the settlers. It stirred doubts about the future of Jewish settlements at a time when many settlers are convinced that the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is no longer committed to protecting them.

Last week, Labor Party members of Parliament revealed that up to 40% of the settlers in the Gush Qatif area of the Gaza Strip--one of two regions slated for hand-over to Palestinian self-rule in the coming months--are prepared to abandon their homes if offered adequate financial compensation.

"We're not like the other settlers. We didn't come here to live as a minority in the middle of multitudes of Arabs," said Shlomo Shoham, coordinator of the Jewish Education Center for the Diaspora and a seven-year Ariel resident.

"People came here for only one reason: to have a nice, quiet, peaceful society. But I have a feeling that recent events, especially what happened last night, are bringing things to a change in Israel," Shoham said.

"I want to be a good citizen--what way? Should I come home every night in a convoy? Should I carry a grenade with me?"

Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, commanding general of the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command, met for several hours with restless Ariel residents Saturday and offered additional protections, including beefed-up patrols on nearby roads.

"We will increase some of our operations, and we will do whatever we think is needed in order to enhance their protection," he said after the meeting. "But it is very, very difficult to protect (everyone). Every day in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), 40,000 cars driven by Israelis use 1,200 kilometers of roads."

Israel Radio reported that the army closed off Ariel during the pre-dawn hours to prevent bands of angry settlers from taking revenge on nearby Arab villages. Deputy Mayor Yigal Rosenthal admitted that controlling emotions is difficult.

"We are trying to calm people down since yesterday night. Everyone wants to do something," he said. "But everyone has to understand that if he acts alone, he's going to make the situation worse."

For residents like Steinfeld, there are no longer enough soldiers in the world to make her feel safe sending her children to school and to work on the highway every day.

"I can't think of moving all these people from here, all these people who live here and work here," she said. "But if someone would come and tell me, 'If you move from here, we're giving you for sure the peace you wish for,' 100% sure that my sacrifice will give the peace, then I'm ready to sacrifice."

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