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Gaza Rage Boils Over After PLO Activists' Deaths


GAZA CITY, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip — Amid cries of "Blood for blood!" and "No peace after today!" the occupied territories exploded in violent protests Tuesday, the day after Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip killed six supporters of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

The latest displays of rage further imperiled the Middle East peace process, already plunged into crisis by last month's massacre of about 30 praying Palestinians in a Hebron mosque.

On Tuesday, as Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, wounding more than 75 and killing one, Palestine Liberation Organization leaders in Gaza City and the West Bank called for a suspension and "comprehensive re-evaluation" of the entire peace process.

The day's violence also left four Israeli soldiers and three civilians wounded, among them a 70-year-old construction worker who was in critical condition after he was attacked with axes by two Palestinian laborers from Gaza in a town near Tel Aviv.

PLO and Israeli officials met in Cairo on Tuesday, even as Arafat--who denounced the Gaza killings as one "in a line of massacres that the Israeli army took part in"--called an emergency meeting of his organization in Tunis, Tunisia.

In Israel, officials said that the Palestinians killed late Monday night--contrary to some earlier reports of the incident--were not on any "most wanted" lists and that they had not fired at Israeli troops before they were shot. PLO officials in the occupied territories said local Israeli officials had apologized to them for the incident.

As for the closed Cairo sessions with the Israelis, PLO leaders stressed that they were not negotiations, or even discussions or meetings. The PLO said its representatives saw the Israelis in "a simple act of receiving answers" to Palestinian demands on a security agreement for Hebron and on questions arising from Monday night's shooting.

The two sides thus failed to reach a predicted breakthrough Tuesday to restart formal talks on implementing the long-delayed Sept. 13 agreement for limited Palestinian autonomy, beginning in Jericho and the Gaza Strip.

In his angry public reaction to the killings, Arafat, in an interview aired on Israeli television, demanded that Israel explain whether Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was aware of his military's plans to slay his PLO supporters. He blamed their deaths on "a secret organization from within the Israeli army. . . . The crime is deliberate, the timing is deliberate and the aim is to sabotage the peace process."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, a prime mover behind the peace talks, insisted that the troops "had no sinister intentions." He called the shootings "regrettable," stressing, "It was not done by intention."

But in and around Gaza's largest, most squalid refugee camp, as families of the six slain members of Arafat's Fatah faction mourned and buried their dead, angry local leaders called Monday night's shootings "cold-blooded murder."

Zakaria Agha, Arafat's handpicked future governor of Gaza, said he knew all six dead men. He said he had advised Arafat to retaliate by suspending all negotiations with Israel for now.

He said he urged the PLO--whose support is at its nadir in the territories, especially in Gaza--to demand deployment of an international military observer force in the Gaza Strip, besides the West Bank city of Hebron.

He also said Palestinians must insist on the immediate withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza and Jericho, which the "Gaza-Jericho first" agreement signed in September stated would begin last Dec. 13 and be completed before April 13.

Agha and half a dozen witnesses asserted in interviews that Monday night's killings included at least one summary execution of a Palestinian by an Israeli undercover officer. The Palestinian witnesses insisted that the men were gunned down without provocation as they handed out leaflets in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

There was a running dispute as to whether the men were armed and whether they wore masks and dressed in camouflage, as described in official accounts given by Israeli military sources. But even Israel's version made it clear that none of the six men fired on the undercover unit before they were killed--some of them by being shot repeatedly at close range.

When the undercover Israeli unit attacked, the six men were distributing leaflets encouraging support for Arafat's Fatah and urging the many Palestinian political factions to unite, witnesses said. The leaflets were signed by Fatah's "secret military wing," the Fatah Hawks.

Although they have insisted they are trying to preserve the peace process, Israeli authorities have said they will continue to fire on armed Palestinians; several Gazans speculated that the men were killed when the undercover unit mistook them for members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which opposes the talks.

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