West Bank Palestinians Brood Under a Frustrating Curfew

A WEEK after the Hebron mosque massacre, with most of the West Bank still under 24-hour curfew and all Palestinians barred from entering Israel, Palestinians are complaining bitterly that they are being doubly victimized.

``It is very frustrating that while the victims are confined to their homes, the settlers move about freely,'' says Ghassan al-Khatib, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team to the Middle East peace talks.

Nor did the killing stop when Muslim worshipers at the Ibrahim mosque in Hebron overpowered and killed Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein after he had mowed down at least 40 of their number early Feb. 25.

Another 21 Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israeli Army in clashes since the massacre, the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem reported yesterday.

Almost all of the West Bank's 1.2 million Palestinians remained under curfew for the sixth straight day yesterday, forbidden to leave their homes for any reason.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin justified the prolonged confinement, saying it was necessary ``to suppress the possibility of confrontation. Better to be under curfew than to bring about bloodshed.''

Mr. Rabin also says he will maintain the closure of the Israeli-occupied territories, barring all Palestinians from entering Israel, ``for as long as we believe it is needed.

``We have to bear in mind the tendency of revenge still in the minds and hearts of many Palestinians,'' he warned. ``I don't need casualties on the Israeli side in addition to the terrible event in Hebron.''

The closure of the territories, imposed a year ago, then progressively relaxed, is keeping approximately 60,000 Palestinians away from their jobs in Israel.

Rabin's concern about clashes, should the curfews be lifted, appeared to be borne out on Wednesday, when one Palestinian youth was killed and a score were wounded in a confrontation with soldiers in Hebron during a two-hour break in the curfew to allow food purchases.

``Lifting the curfew while soldiers are still all over the place does mean more clashes,'' acknowledges Bassam Eid, a field worker for B'tselem. The solution, he says, is for the Army to keep a lower profile.

The B'tselem report urged the government not to reinforce the Army presence in the occupied territories at emotionally tense moments, and also accused soldiers of using undue force in the aftermath of the massacre.

``In none of the cases [of security force killings] investigated by B'tselem were soldiers or police in life-threatening circumstances,'' the report found.

Government spokesman Uri Dromi challenges that, claiming that ``those soldiers were under danger for their lives, and they had to open fire in order to rescue themselves from the situation.''

Soldiers have clearly been jittery in recent days, however, as evidenced by the death of Jewish settler David Baruch on Tuesday night, shot by mistake by troops manning a roadblock.

This week's heavy death-toll follows a pattern set by previous serious incidents: In 1990, 18 Palestinians were killed by security forces in 10 days of clashes after the murder of seven Palestinians by an Israeli. In the 10 days following the deportation of 415 Palestinians in 1992, 11 Palestinians were killed in Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza.

Some Palestinians worry that although the curfews might reduce conflict now, the Israeli authorities are storing up trouble for the future.

``The curfews are clearly increasing the frustration'' among Palestinians, according to Dr. Khatib. ``And if people are not allowed to express their anger in mass protests, it is going to be translated into individual acts of suicidal violence,'' he warns.

It was only after the prolonged curfews that followed the 1990 Temple Mount massacre, in which Israeli security forces killed 18 Palestinians, that individual Palestinians took to stabbing attacks in Israel, Khatib points out.

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