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19 Oct 2004 15:26
Israeli authorities are bracing themselves for a violent backlash to the planned pull-out from Gaza, as growing fears were voiced on Tuesday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s life is in danger from extremists.
After a warning by Justice Minister Tommy Lapid that administrative detention orders could be imposed on right-wing radicals, a prison-service spokesperson confirmed that “we have received general instructions” to ready hundreds of places inside detention facilities for settlers.
Jewish settlers are at the forefront of opposition to the prime minister’s so-called disengagement plan.
While detention orders—which allow for people who have not been convicted of any offence to be placed behind bars—are regularly imposed on Palestinians, their use on Israeli Jews is almost unprecedented.
Officials in the Israeli Parliament also said that the Knesset’s own security force is being beefed up while entry to the chamber is being heavily restricted ahead of a crunch vote on the project next Monday.
The moves reflect a growing fear that the bitter divisions over the disengagement plan could lead to bloodshed, with settlers warning over the weekend that their one-time champion appears intent on leading Israel towards “civil war”.
Main opposition Labour party leader Shimon Peres voiced fears that Sharon’s life is now in danger, saying the atmosphere of incitement is as bad as in the lead-up to the 1995 assassination of former premier Yitzhak Rabin.
“The incitement has me terrified, the harsh words that are being voiced again,” Peres was quoted as telling the Maariv daily. “I am afraid that someone will try to kill the prime minister.”
Peres assumed the premiership after Rabin was shot dead by a right-wing Jewish extremist at a rally in Tel Aviv.
He said the atmosphere surrounding Sharon’s plans to uproot 8 000 settlers from the Gaza Strip next year is reminiscent of the mood in 1995.
“There is a lot of similarity between the situation then and today,” Peres said.
Rabin’s Cabinet chief, Eytan Haber, also said the current climate has unpleasant echoes of nine years ago.
“This grave atmosphere which we are seeing today certainly evokes those difficult days which preceded the assassination of Rabin. Of that there can be no doubt,” he told public radio.
“We are reaching boiling point,” he added, recalling how rightwingers had posted excrement-filled envelopes and boxes containing the bodies of black cats to Rabin in anger at his stewardship of the Oslo peace process with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Police confirmed last month that they were investigating death threats against both Sharon and Jonathan Bassi, who is the head of Israel’s disengagement administration.
According to Professor Yaron Ezrachi, a specialist in Israeli political culture, such threats will be taken with utmost seriousness by the security services.
“I think the situation is even more serious than in the time of Rabin,” Ezrachi said. “All the opposition to the plan to withdraw from Gaza is concentrated on one man—Sharon. If Sharon is eliminated, then the plan no longer exists.”—Sapa-AFP
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