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CRISES IN THE MIDEAST

Israeli Abducted in Europe as Gloom Deepens

October 16, 2000|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — An Israeli businessman and colonel in the army reserves who was traveling abroad has been kidnapped by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia, the Israeli Defense Ministry confirmed Sunday. The abduction deepened the sense of gloom here as Prime Minister Ehud Barak prepared to attend a U.S.-brokered summit in Egypt today with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Speaking to his Cabinet, Barak said he felt strongly that "the peace process in its present form has come to an end." His priority now, he said, is to establish a broad-based emergency government that would include Ariel Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud Party, to deal with what many Israelis perceive as a national security crisis.

In the past 2 1/2 weeks, Israelis have witnessed bloody clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between their troops and Palestinians. They have had their roads blocked, watched as religious shrines have been desecrated inside Israel proper and seen Arab Israelis rioting. And now even traveling abroad is beginning to look risky. Hezbollah, warned Ehud Yaari, Israel Television's veteran Arab affairs analyst, is opening a new front.

Traditionally, the weeklong Sukkot holiday, which began at sundown Thursday, is a time of traveling around the country and visiting family and friends. But warnings from the security services that Islamic militants might launch bombing attacks are keeping many people at home this Sukkot. Normally packed malls are empty, and crowds are thin at many other public gathering spots.

"You think I'm happy about it?" said government spokesman Nachman Shai at a news briefing Sunday. "We are encouraging people to shop, but it's understandable that they are not."

Meanwhile, a tense quiet, broken only by scattered stone-throwing incidents, prevailed in the Palestinian territories Sunday, where riots and gun battles have raged for more than two weeks. But Israel made no goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians on the eve of the summit. The West Bank and Gaza remained closed off from Israel, as they have been since Oct. 6, and troops continued to block the roads around main towns in the West Bank, keeping Palestinians from traveling freely.

In Israel, thousands of mourners gathered at a military cemetery in Petah Tikva to bury Yossef Avrahami, one of two Israeli reserve soldiers lynched by a Palestinian mob Thursday in the West Bank. He was eulogized by his 8-year-old daughter and by Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau as relatives and friends wept over his grave.

In the Jordan Valley, two soldiers were wounded when shots were fired at their post from Jordan, an Arab state at peace with Israel.

"It is what I call the ripple effect," said Col. Raanan Gissin, an Israeli army spokesman. "There is a ripple effect from the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza, an atmosphere of incitement in the Arab countries around us that is very dangerous."

The day began with Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah claiming in Beirut that the militia, which fought to drive Israel from southern Lebanon, had captured an Israeli colonel in what he called a "complex security operation." By nightfall, the Israelis had confirmed the claim, and some reports said the man had disappeared while in Switzerland.

According to a senior defense source, the missing man is Elhanan Tannenbaum, 56, a Tel Aviv businessman who has traveled frequently to Europe and had contacts with Arab businessmen. Tannenbaum had told his family that he would be out of touch for several days, the source said. But when the family heard Nasrallah's claim, one worried relative contacted the Ministry of Defense.

In a statement in which it did not name the man, the ministry said that he "was kidnapped after he left Israel of his own will for personal reasons." It said the abduction was "a serious act and contradicts all norms of international justice."

Hezbollah also is holding three Israeli soldiers it captured Oct. 7 on Israel's northern border. It has said it wants to trade the soldiers for hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

A series of United Nations and European envoys have shuttled between Israel and Lebanon trying to arrange a deal, but Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said Sunday that Israel still did not know the soldiers' condition or whereabouts.

Mofaz welcomed the relative calm in the territories but said Israel doesn't expect it to last.

"There's no doubt that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] has to prepare for lengthy confrontation," he said. The government, he said, has "one main goal at the summit--to lead to a cease-fire."

Another goal, the Cabinet said in a communique later, is to reach agreement that Arafat will disarm the Tanzim militia, which has engaged in gun battles with Israeli troops.

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