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Israel to Reopen Gaza Strip, Resume Palestinian Talks : Mideast: Cabinet voices approval for Arafat's hard line toward militants. But he faces continued unrest.

October 17, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Moving to ease tensions with the Palestinian self-governing authority, Israel's Cabinet decided Sunday to end the closure of the Gaza Strip, imposed last week after an Israeli soldier was kidnaped, and said that peace talks with the Palestinians will resume Tuesday in Cairo.

In Gaza, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat continued to feel the political heat from his decision last week to crack down on Hamas, the militant Islamic movement that claimed responsibility for abducting Cpl. Nachshon Waxman, who was killed Friday during an Israeli rescue attempt. Hamas leaders say they will not deal directly with the Palestinian Authority that Arafat heads until all of the estimated 200 Hamas supporters arrested last week are freed.

Several hundred Hamas supporters blocked Netzarim, a main junction in northern Gaza, and threw stones at Jewish settlers and soldiers Sunday morning. Israeli soldiers reportedly fired shots in the air, then retreated to form a defensive ring around a nearby settlement. They left it to the Palestinian police to disperse the demonstrators peacefully. No casualties were reported.

Israeli Cabinet ministers expressed satisfaction with Arafat's decision to confront Hamas, the main Palestinian group opposing Israel's peace accord with the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and other ministers reportedly urged that Israel move forward rapidly to expand its accords with the Palestinians in the wake of the kidnaping and death of Waxman.

"There can be no bigger prize to Hamas than stopping the talks with the Palestinians," Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said.

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Palestinians living in Gaza will be allowed to cross into Israel again today, the government decided. The 30,000 Palestinian workers who normally cross daily into Israel have been barred from doing so since Wednesday, after Hamas revealed that it had kidnaped Waxman the previous Sunday.

Last week, insisting that Waxman was being held in Gaza, Israel abruptly recalled its chief negotiator, Danny Rothschild, from talks in Cairo with the Palestinians on holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin held Arafat personally responsible for Waxman's safe return.

But Friday morning, the Israelis learned that the 19-year-old Waxman, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, was being held by members of the Izzidin al-Qassam armed unit of Hamas in a West Bank Village just north of Jerusalem. Rabin ordered the rescue attempt.

The assault by an elite army unit failed, and Waxman and another Israeli soldier, Capt. Nir Poraz, were killed during the firefight that erupted when the unit stormed the house where Waxman was held. Israel said that Waxman was shot by his captors as the assault started.

In a late-night news conference Friday, Rabin accepted full responsibility for the decision to try to free Waxman through a military assault.

He charged that Waxman's captors were directed and led by militants inside Gaza and said that Arafat must prevent Gaza from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on Israel.

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On Sunday, some Cabinet members criticized Rabin for failing to consult with them before ordering the rescue attempt, but they supported his decision.

Yehuda Waxman, Cpl. Waxman's father, told Israel Radio that he too supported Rabin's decision.

"The prime minister is the one who decides," the elder Waxman said. "He has information that we don't have."

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