Precede BEIT HAGAI Settler Rabbi Slain by Islamic Militants Buried
OTNIEL, West Bank (AP) _ Hundreds of Jewish settlers came today to the first grave dug at the mountaintop settlement of Otniel, to bury a rabbi killed by Islamic militants in a drive-by shooting.
One settler leader was reported as calling for revenge, even as the cycle of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was pushing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to speed up the peace process.
Ami Olami, a 35-year-old father of five, died Sunday in a hail of bullets as he drove toward Otniel. The settlement is three miles from the West Bank city of Hebron, a flashpoint that has been even more volatile than usual since another settler massacred 29 Palestinian worshipers in February.
A caller claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack on behalf of the radical Islamic group Hamas.
About 600 mourners from Otniel and neighboring settlements attended Olami’s funeral today in a drizzling rain. Olami’s grave was the first dug at Otniel, a settlement of about 50 families founded 10 years ago, settlers said.
Some of his pupils wept as his 10-year-old son, Matanya, recited the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer of mourning.
″Our hearts are split open,″ said Rabbi Yosef Kalmanson, who delivered the eulogy. ″They caught you yesterday, the murderers...We were all one family. I promise you we will continue, we will continue″ building the settlement.
Settlement leaders have accused the government of encouraging attacks by pursuing peace with the Palestinian Liberation Organization despite deadly assaults on Israelis by Palestinian extremists bent on undermining the peace process.
Since the 1993 peace accord, 87 Israelis have been killed.
Zvi Katsover, head of the militant Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron, told Israeli newspapers that violence would increase if Israel moved ahead with plans to withdraw soldiers from West Bank cities to give Palestinians autonomy.
″There will be a two-sided massacre,″ Katsover said, according to the Maariv newspaper. ″Under no circumstances we will agree to be sitting ducks. We have to respond.″
Another newspaper, Haaretz, quoted Katsover as saying after Olami was killed Sunday, ″I will not longer condemn Jews who stand up and do something. We have had enough.″
Israeli sources said the gunfire that killed Olami came from a passing car carrying at least two men. A policeman riding with him was shot in the back of the head, but managed to get out of the rabbi’s car before it veered off the road and flipped over. He was hospitalized in fair condition.
An anonymous caller to Israel radio claimed responsibility on behalf of Hamas. Hamas has carried out a series of recent attacks, including a suicide bus bombing that killed 23 people in Tel Aviv last month.
″We will continue the attacks,″ the caller said. He said the shooting marked the anniversary of the killing of a Hamas activist by Israeli forces.
The violence has also soured some Israeli doves on the peace talks.
Nissim Zvili, secretary-general of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party and a leading party dove, was quoted by Haaretz as saying that the government should consider halting further implementation of the peace agreement.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel was in Brussels, Belgium, today to meet with PLO leader Yasser Arafat to discuss the expansion of Palestinian autonomy, launched in May in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
Before leaving, Peres indicated the two sides could speed up the timetable for reaching agreement on the final status of the occupied lands. ″We have to try to imagine and create some new solutions,″ he said.