March 18, 1996 in Nation/World

Israel Steps Back From Peace Process Troops To Remain In Hebron Until Plo Arrests Key Terrorists


In a decision that officially freezes the peace process, Israel announced Sunday that it won’t pull its troops from Hebron until Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s forces have captured the top wanted men of Hamas.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres, continuing his escalation of harsh words toward Arafat, made it clear that Israel’s participation in following the Oslo agreements is conditional on Arafat’s war on terror.

Peres demanded several times during a Cabinet meeting that Palestinian security agents arrest Mohammed Dief, considered by the Israelis as Hamas’ key militant operative.

“For as long as evil is coming out of Gaza and Mohammed Dief and his friends are walking free and planning terrorist attacks, we shall not leave Hebron,” Peres said later.

Hebron was the first test in the peace process following four Hamas suicide-bomb attacks that killed 58 people in Israel over nine days in late February and early March.

Israeli soldiers were scheduled, in 11 days, to pull out of parts of Hebron, the only city in the West Bank in which Jewish settlers live among a Muslim population. About 1,000 soldiers now protect 450 Jews in a city of 80,000 Palestinians.

Hebron long has been a center of religious conflict, a place of open hatred between Jews and Muslims made notorious by massacres - the Muslims’ 1929 murderous spree against Jews and Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein’s killing of 29 Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.

Arafat did not respond immediately to Peres’ decision. But on several occasions, Arafat has said Palestinian security has dismantled substantial parts of Hamas’ military and political structure. In all, he said, his forces have arrested 600 people.

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