Abbas aide: Settler attacks could scupper peace process
Olmert: We'll deal sternly with settlers who attack Palestinians; Settler leader: Hebron eviction 'act of scoundrels'.
The Palestinian Authority warned Thursday that clashes by Israeli settlers in Hebron and other West Bank areas could end the peace process.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned in a statement the settlers' attacks against Palestinian civilians in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
He held the Israeli government as "directly responsible for this serious escalation," demanding an immediate end to the attacks.
Abu Rudeineh called on the international community to intervene to stop what he said was a "dangerous aggression." He said the PA "considers this escalation unprecedented," adding that it "bears dangerous ramifications ... which can end the peace process if it continues."
Ahmad Qureia, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, also condemned the attacks and called on Israeli officials "to immediately declare their condemnation of the barbaric settlers' attacks against our people."
He called on the Israeli government to pull out all the settlers from Hebron "to avoid an explosion that can lead to grave consequences."
He called in a statement for an international protection of the Palestinian people.
Olmert: We'll deal sternly with settlers who attack Palestinians
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday said Israel would not countenance attacks by extremists against Palestinians after Hebron settlers rampaged through the West Bank city.
In a statement late Thursday, Olmert said that violent elements who try to attack Palestinians would face a quick, stern response from security forces.
The settlers' riots came in response to the evacuation by security forces of the so-called "House of Contention" in Hebron that Defense Minister Ehud Barak labeled as a test of Israel's ability to enforce the law.
"What was tested today was the ability of the state to enforce its laws and its essence upon its citizens," said Barak, speaking at a news conference.
"Before we acted, I did what was required from a responsible leadership - I spoke with Rabbis from the West Bank and with members of the Jewish community in Hebron so as to carry out the High Court's decision in order to prevent use of force," Barak continued.
Three weeks ago, the High Court ordered the state to immediately evacuate the building.
The defense minister praised the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the Border Police for their role in the violently resisted operation in the West Bank city on Thursday afternoon.
He also said the army had to act against "lawless" settler youth.
Earlier Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai denounced Barak's "strange and wretched" decision on Thursday for Israel to evacuate the Hebron home on the same day as the Labor party primaries.
Yishai, who is also the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, added that he told Barak that he should wait for a court ruling on the evacuation before ordering the security forces to carry it out.
MK Arieh Eldad also lashed out at Barak, saying he was responsible for all those wounded in the lightening-quick raid in Hebron.
"Barak sent the IDF and police as part of the left-wing's election campaign and the blood of the casualties is on his hands," said Eldad (National Religious Party).
The ultranationalist lawmaker was referring to Israel's upcoming general election in February. Barak's Labor party was also holding its primaries on Thursday.
"Only the government will be held responsible for what happens there," he said. "The evacuation of the House of Peace is an act of violent madness that may end in bloodshed."
Other rightists also issued harsh condemnations of the evacuation. Settler leader Daniella Weiss told Channel 10 that, "This is an act of scoundrels, Jews evicting Jews from their homes."
"This could have been done peacefully and legally. Instead Barak chose violence," said Danny Dayan, leader of the Yesha settler council. "This surprised us completely. He threw a match in a pile of gun powder."
Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan, however, countered: "No doubt this came too late but it's better late than never. This was a test for the rule of law and it shows there is one law for everybody for people in Hebron, Tel Aviv and everywhere."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said: "In Israel, the rule of law prevails and not the rule of the vigilante."