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Israel, PLO Agree on Observers

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post

Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed Thursday to deployment of 160 temporary international observers in Hebron in the wake of the massacre there last month and to resume negotiations on the Gaza-Jericho autonomy accord.

The agreement marks the first time since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war that it has permitted such international observers, although in practice a number of organizations, including the United Nations, have run informal human rights monitoring programs. Also, the international observers were envisioned in the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted after the massacre.

The observer force will carry sidearms for self-defense but will have no military or police powers, according to the agreement. Its purpose is to "promote stability" and "to monitor the efforts to restore the safety of Palestinians ... and the return to normal life in the city of Hebron."

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the international force "will not be dealing with any aspect of security. The collective responsibility will remain always in the hands of the legal government, and we are the legal government."

Israel also pledged to speed up the military withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho in an effort to meet the April 13 target set in last year's accord. Meeting in Cairo, negotiators agreed that a vanguard of 300 Palestinian police will arrive next week in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, where limited Palestinian self-rule is to begin, special correspondent Kimberly Dozier reported.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old Israeli was stabbed to death Thursday in Israel and his assailants left a letter in Arabic saying it was "a terrorist attack," police said. A 70-year-old Israeli Jew who was assaulted with axes earlier this week by two Palestinians died of his wounds.

In Kiryat Arba, the Jewish settlement adjacent to Hebron, several thousand Israelis, largely settlers and ultra-Orthodox Jews, held a rally to mark the 26th anniversary of Jewish settlement in Hebron and to denounce the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They carried banners objecting to any evacuation of Jews from Hebron, and some demonstrators praised Baruch Goldstein, the militant settler who killed at least 29 Muslim worshipers on Feb. 25.

Rabin has insisted in public that Israel will not evacuate Jews from Hebron, but there have been strong indications that his government might try to do so in the weeks ahead, perhaps moving small pockets of Jewish settlers out of densely populated Arab areas to nearby Kiryat Arba, where 5,000 Jews live. The belief that Rabin would take such a step was critical to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat winning over his reluctant executive committee to approve the Hebron deal, sources close to the Cairo talks said.

The agreement, signed in Cairo by PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath and Israel's deputy chief of staff, Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, calls for a three-month deployment of observers, to be extended if both sides consent. In the Cairo talks, the Palestinians dropped earlier demands for Israel to dismantle its settlements in the heart of Hebron, where about 400 Jews live. They also dropped demands for a force of Palestinian police in Hebron, apparently because Israel would not grant them independent authority.