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Israel Tightens Security to Prevent Passover Attacks : Mideast: Extra forces deployed on fears of revenge for mosque slayings.

March 26, 1994|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Thousands of police reinforcements were deployed throughout Israel and the occupied territories Friday, taking up positions at synagogues, vacation resorts, bus stations, markets and major highways as Israeli authorities girded during the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover for possible revenge attacks for last month's mosque massacre.

The additional security force was concentrated in and around Jerusalem, the disputed city that is the site of the ancient temple of King Herod, where Jews traditionally are commanded to pay pilgrimage on Passover, which begins at sunset today.

But as the holiday jitters deepened, many Jews throughout Israel expressed fears about praying this weekend at Jerusalem's Western Wall, the temple's only remnant and Judaism's holiest site, which abuts one of the holiest shrines of Islam.

"This period is filled with dangers and tensions, much more than usual," Israeli Police Chief Rafi Peled said, confirming that authorities and many Israelis are, as one put it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"The feelings of fury among the Arabs in the wake of the massacre, and the religious and nationalist awakening that ensued, have not yet reached their peak," Peled said.

The police chief added that his force and the Israeli army have received specific warnings that armed Palestinian extremist groups intend to use the Jewish holiday to retaliate for the Feb. 25 massacre of about 30 Palestinians in a Muslim shrine in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron. The worshipers were gunned down by a Jewish extremist as they prayed on the holiest day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.

In the month since the carnage, armed Palestinian groups have claimed responsibility for two revenge attacks on Jews--this week's killing of a Jewish security guard near the Old City in Jerusalem and an attack on a bus that wounded three Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank earlier in the week.

On both occasions, extremist parties claimed responsibility for the attacks, stressing that they were the "first acts of retaliation" for the massacre.

The better-armed, well-organized underground Islamic groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have yet to strike. Both vowed publicly to take revenge after the killings in the Ibrahim Mosque at Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs.

So tense is Jerusalem and so deep is the concern in the Israeli government at the onset of Passover that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's Cabinet voted to extend the closure of Israel's borders with the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip--at least until after the holiday ends next weekend.

This was a costly decision that will continue to deprive Israeli farmers of Palestinian labor at a critical time in the spring harvest.

This week's 22-hour Israeli army assault on a suspected Hamas hide-out in Hebron was, in effect, another costly precaution for the coming holiday.

At a news conference late Thursday, Maj. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, commanding officer of Israel's forces in the West Bank, indicated that the siege, in which at least 1,500 soldiers fired thousands of bullets and more than 100 antitank missiles into a home, was aimed at neutralizing the fundamentalist threat at a critical time.

"The amount of weapons and ammunition found in the house after it was demolished indicates that it served as a base for Hamas activities," said Mofaz, who was slightly injured in the battle.

The four Palestinians killed in the firefight were known to be key members of Izzedine Kassim, Hamas' highly secretive armed wing, the general added.

With their deaths, Mofaz said, the list of Israel's most-wanted Hamas activists is now fewer than 10. But even a small number of armed "terrorists," he said, can present a significant threat.

Israeli authorities clearly are also wary of a continuing threat from armed Jewish extremists during the Passover holiday.

Passover marks the time, according to the Bible, when the angel of death passed over slave houses of Jews and, instead, killed the first-born of their Egyptian captors; there subsequently was a plague that enabled the exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery.

In the modern Jewish state, particular concern has arisen over the Hebron settler movement, which spawned Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born physician who fired more than 100 bullets from an automatic rifle into the crowded Ibrahim Mosque before he was beaten to death. Some of Goldstein's fellow settlers have applauded his attack as sacred and heroic.

The army Friday restricted all travel in and out of Kiryat Arba, the settlement near Hebron in the occupied West Bank where Goldstein lived. It is home to several prominent Jewish extremists.

The decision to place Kiryat Arba under curfew came as the settlers announced that they will launch a new campaign timed for the Passover holiday. They have put up posters throughout Jerusalem advertising a march next week, which a spokesman said would go from Kiryat Arba into Hebron, home to about 125,000 Palestinians.

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