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Israel Suspends Talks With PLO Over Kidnaping

October 12, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Tuesday broke off talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, closed the Gaza Strip and said the peace process will be jeopardized if an Israeli soldier kidnaped by Hamas, a militant Islamic group, is harmed.

Rabin told PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat that Israel holds him and the self-governing authority he heads responsible for the soldier's safe return, a Rabin spokesman said.

The prime minister ordered Dany Rothschild, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, to return for consultations from Cairo, where Israel and the PLO are negotiating terms for holding Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Rabin told Arafat that, if the kidnaped Israeli soldier is harmed, "it may have a grave influence on Israel's relations with the Palestinian Authority, and on the future of the peace process," spokesman Oded Ben-Ami told Israel Radio.

In Gaza, Arafat convened his military advisers but issued no statement. An aide said he was monitoring the case closely.

In a videotape and handwritten statement delivered to a news agency office in Gaza, the Izzidin al Qassam military unit of Hamas claimed it had abducted Nachshon Waxman, 19--whom it identified as Nachshon Mordechai--and said it will kill him by 9 p.m. Friday unless Israel meets its demands.

The Hamas announcement came just one day after the group claimed responsibility for a bloody attack on Israelis carried out by two gunmen Sunday night in downtown Jerusalem. That incident left two people dead and 13 wounded. The two attackers were killed by paramilitary police.

Hamas on Tuesday demanded the release of its founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin; another leader, Sheik Salah Shehada, and two clerics of the militant Lebanese Islamic movement Hezbollah, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Sheik Mustafa Dirani. Israel kidnaped Obeid from southern Lebanon more than five years ago. It has held him inside Israel ever since. The Israelis kidnaped Dirani on May 21 and have held him.

Hamas also insisted on freedom from imprisonment for dozens of its followers, members of another militant Islamic group, Islamic Jihad, and members of three PLO factions.

"If the Israeli government refuses our demands, it must carry the responsibility of the murder of the soldier and then we will negotiate afterward on his body," Hamas said in its statement.

An Israeli army spokesman refused to comment directly on the kidnaping, although military sources confirmed that Waxman has been missing since Sunday night. He was last seen hitchhiking in the coastal plain town of Ramle.

A friend who left him at a Ramle intersection said Waxman hoped to get a ride to his home in Jerusalem. His mother, Esther, issued an emotional appeal on Israel Television to her son's kidnapers, asking Hamas "in the name of God, return my son to me."

The kidnaping poses a severe test of the power of Arafat, who returned to Gaza on Tuesday night after attending a funeral in Morocco.

In May, Israel turned over responsibility for running daily life in Gaza to the PLO. Since then, Hamas has carried out operations against Israeli soldiers and civilians, inside the Gaza Strip and within the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel. Each time an attack has occurred, Arafat has been pressured to publicly condemn it and to seek out and punish the perpetrators.

He has issued condemnations but has avoided cracking down on Hamas, which enjoys widespread popular support in Gaza. Arafat has sought accommodation with the group, hoping to entice it into running in Palestinian elections, due to be held in the next several months.

But this time, Hamas has pushed Arafat into a corner by kidnaping the soldier and demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Arafat and his embryonic government have been severely criticized by many Palestinians for failing to win the release of all prisoners held in Israeli jails. Israel has held up the release of 4,000 prisoners, saying it wants assurances that the Palestinian Authority can handle the security situation in Gaza before freeing them.

But by closing the Gaza Strip, Israel is increasing the pressure on Arafat. Each day, tens of thousands of Gazans cross into Israel for work--the primary source of jobs for the impoverished strip. A closure that lasts more than a few days is likely to severely strain the precarious finances of many Gaza families.

The kidnaping is embarrassing for Rabin, who expects later this week to be named--with Arafat--the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Rabin faces attack from the right wing in Israel for signing an agreement that prevents Israel from pursuing into Gaza guerrillas who carry out attacks inside Israel. He is likely to come under enormous pressure to make an exception in this case and search Gaza for Waxman before Friday's deadline.

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