Wazir's assassination spells more trouble for US's Mideast peace plan. PLO VOWS REVENGE
As analysts here grapple with the implications of Saturday's assassination of Kahlil al-Wazir, deputy chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), these conclusions are emerging: Outrage in the territories over Israel's alleged role in the shooting, pledges of revenge by the PLO, and the PLO's own determination to demonstrate that it can carry on without Mr. Wazir (also known as Abu Jihad) are likely to translate into more unrest in the territories and, perhaps, into terrorist attacks against Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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The assassination makes it less likely the peace initiative, sponsored by United States Secretary of State George Shultz, can procede without the PLO. But by strengthening the position of hardliners on the PLO executive committee, it is less likely PLO chief Yasser Arafat - reluctant to begin with - can make the concessions needed to begin peace talks.
Some analysts here say Saturday's killing in Tunisia also could alert moderate Arab leaders that dealing with Israel could entail greater personal risk now.
Wazir, a central figure in organizing the current unrest in the West Bank and Gaza, was gunned down by a team of nine assassins early Saturday morning in his Tunis residence.
News of his death touched off the worst violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the start of the Palestinian uprising four months ago, leaving at least 14 dead and, according to Palestinian estimates, more than 100 wounded.
A tense quiet was maintained yesterday as Israeli authorities placed 20 refugee camps and two cities under curfew, and declared five other West Bank towns closed military areas.
One Israeli expert on the PLO says Saturday's assassination may not fundamentally alter the basic conditions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
``Just as the `intefadah' (uprising) was started by local initiative, I don't think [Jihad's] removal will make that much difference,'' says Asher Susser, a professor at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Institute.
Professor Susser adds that while Wazir's death may put the PLO ``under a state of partial shock that may distract them from the peace process,'' existing differences with Israel over substance and procedure already may be enough to sink the US peace initiative.
So far the Israeli government has made no public comment about Wazir's death. Privately, many Israelis say Wazir was the victim of internecine strife within the PLO, perhaps even within Al-Fatah, the largest Palestinian group, itself.
One official in Jerusalem points out that relations between Mr. Arafat and Wazir had deteriorated in recent years, leading to clashes between military forces loyal to the two in southern Lebanon. The official adds that Wazir was not without other enemies in the Arab world.
But Israel had the main grievance and was perhaps the only country in the region operation ally capable of the attack.
Wazir was hated by most Israelis as the person responsible for terrorist attacks that claimed Jewish women and children as its victims. His death was welcomed yesterday by several right-wing politicians.
But for residents of the West Bank and Gaza, he was a symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.
Thus, the territories erupted in violence Saturday as news of Wazir's assassination spread.
Meanwhile black flags were displayed on homes and telephone polls throughout the West Bank and Gaza, while hundreds of Palestinians participated in mock funerals for the slain PLO leader.
One Palestinian from Ramallah said yesterday he had not displayed a black flag on his home since the death of Egyptian president Abdul Gammel Nasser in 1970. Ironically, it was Mr. Nasser's strident Arab nationalism that shaped the views of Wazir as a young student leader.
Others here described their reactions to the assassination in strikingly personal terms and warned that Wazir's loss, by strengthening opposition to Israel's occupation, would only fuel the uprising.
``Every one of us is Abu Jihad,'' said another Ramallah resident depicting the local impetus behind the uprising.
As military commander of the PLO, Wazir was the mastermind behind numerous terrorist attacks against Israel, including the takeover of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok in September 1972, and a bus attack on the Tel-Aviv-Haifa road in 1968 that left 35 Israelis dead.
His most recent terrorist action was another bus attack, in the Negev desert near Dimona last month, that resulted in three Israeli deaths.
It was the Dimona attack that finally prompted top Israeli officials to authorize the long-discussed operation to eliminate Wazir, according to an NBC report Saturday.
The report said the operation was carried out by agents of Mossad (Israel's secret service), naval commandos, and members of the elite Army unit that planned and executed a famous hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.
Wazir will be buried in Amman today.