ONE cry rose above the din as Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein emptied three magazines of bullets into a crowd of praying Palestinians here last Friday: ``Where are you Arafat? Where is the peace?''
It was a cry taken up by enraged Palestinians all over town, as they vented their frustration and despair at the deaths of about 60 of their kinsmen in the attack and later riots, and at the meager results produced so far from peace talks that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has said will give them statehood.
It was a cry heard in Washington, where President Clinton quickly invited Israeli and Palestinian officials to go into continuous negotiations to wrap up their accord on limited Palestinian autonomy.
It was a cry heard in Tunis, headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), where Mr. Arafat felt yet another blow to his credibility among Palestinians, dubious about the path of peace he has taken.
``I am a PLO supporter 100 percent,'' said Naim Khawasmeh, a Hebron grocer, in the wake of the massacre. ``But of course this affects my support. I want peace, and what do they [the Israelis] offer me? They offer me a massacre.''``We should freeze the peace talks until the Israeli Army forces the settlers to leave,'' argued Abbas Kharawmeh, one of Mr. Khawasmeh's neighbors. ``At the very least, the settlers should be disarmed.''
In a bid to shore up flagging support for continued talks with the Israelis, Arafat has demanded protection for ordinary Palestinians in the occupied territories before accepting Mr. Clinton's invitation.
``We need ... to give our people security and protection, and at the same time these armed gangs and armed settlers must be disarmed, otherwise they will become time bombs,'' Arafat told Reuters news agency in Tunis.
Israeli officials have ruled out any United Nations or other foreign presence in the occupied territories, but the Israeli Cabinet took a step toward curbing settler violence at its meeting yesterday.
As police and Army troops hunted for five fugitive leaders of the extreme right-wing Kach movement, to which Goldstein belonged, the Cabinet approved what Environment Minister Yossi Sarid called ``unprecedented measures commensurate with the severity of the actions.''
They include detention without trial - a measure normally used only against Palestinians - for some, and restricting the freedom of movement and right to bear arms for others. Mr. Sarid also said the government will start releasing about 800 to 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
Moves against Kach
``We cannot yet talk about when the [peace] talks will be resumed, but we see our decisions as decisions that will make it easier to resume negotiations soon,'' Sarid said.
The moves against Kach leaders in the Hebron area did not go far enough for Palestinian leaders, however. ``We are talking about a very dangerous community,'' said Faisal Husseini, the top PLO official in Jerusalem. ``It is not a matter of arrests, but of evacuating them.''
Palestinian opponents of the peace process declared the massacre a death knell for the negotiations. In Amman, Jordan, the spokesman for the radical Islamist Hamas group, Ibrahim Ghoshe, said the ``terrible massacre'' had dealt a ``fatal blow'' to the talks.
Israeli officials, on the other hand, insisted that the attack on the mosque would speed up the negotiations. ``We need these peace talks more than ever before,'' said Israeli Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein. ``What happened in Hebron only strengthens us in our decision to put an end to this bloody conflict.''
The murders, however, have certainly eroded the position of strength from which Israel has been negotiating with the PLO up till now, according to political analysts and diplomats.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Radio over the weekend it was ``clear as daylight that this will make the peace process go faster, but it will also make it more complicated'' for Israel.
While Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has accepted the US invitation to send all his negotiators to Washington for marathon talks with the Palestinians, Arafat's hesitation puts a question mark over the resumption of negotiations.
The PLO leader was consulting with his negotiators yesterday, awaiting the outcome of a tussle in the UN Security Council over what form UN condemnation of the massacre would take.