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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Makes Implied Admission of Israel’s Role in Assassination

October 5, 1997

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Makes Implied Admission of Israel’s Role in Assassination Attempt on Hamas Leader, Defends Israel’s Right To Fight TerrorismBy HILARY APPELMAN

JERUSALEM (AP) _ In an implied admission of Israel’s role in a botched assassination attempt in Jordan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended Israel’s right to fight terrorism ``without compromise.″

The bungled Sept. 25 attack on Khalid Mashaal in Jordan has damaged peacemaking and thrown relations with Israel’s friendliest Arab ally, Jordan, into crisis. In Israel on Sunday, there were calls for an official inquiry, and an opposition lawmaker demanded Netanyahu’s resignation.

In the attack, two men carrying Canadian passports injected poison into the Hamas leader’s ear as he entered his office in Amman. Mashaal was hospitalized with breathing problems but recovered.

In its first public comment on the attempt, Netanyahu’s government stopped short of confirming that Israeli agents were responsible.

But in a Cabinet statement, Netanyahu called Mashaal ``the No. 1 figure in Hamas, responsible for the murder of innocent Israeli citizens,″ and said, ``The government’s obligation is to protect the lives of its citizens and to fight terror without compromise.″

Netanyahu adviser David Bar-Illan indicated that negotiations were under way with Jordan over the return of the two attackers, now in Jordanian custody.

``We’d rather not refer to the specific case as long as the negotiations are going on,″ he told reporters. ``We’re not discussing the case as long as there are Israelis in custody in Jordan.″

Bar-Illan said Mashaal was responsible for activating the Hamas cells that carried out two deadly suicide bombings in Jerusalem this summer.

In protest of the use of Canadian passports in the attack, Canada recalled its ambassador from Israel. Jordan’s King Hussein, in an interview published Sunday in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, called the attack ``a reckless act carried out by a party that has no faith in peace.″

Hussein did not specifically tie Israel to the assassination attempt, but insisted that Israel respect the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries. ``I personally can’t figure out what the Israeli prime minister is thinking of, and this worries me a lot,″ he said.

Despite his harsh words, the king accepted the credentials Sunday of Israel’s new ambassador to Jordan, Oded Eran, in a ceremony scheduled before last week’s attack.

According to Israel news media, Israel sent a doctor to Jordan after the attack with a drug that neutralized the poison. If Jordan had not received the antidote, Hussein said, ``We would have taken plenty of measures.″

Israeli reports described Israel’s release last week of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’ ailing spiritual leader, as part of a swap for the two men held by Jordan. The king denied such a deal.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Yassin would not be allowed into the Gaza Strip until the two men held in Jordan were released to Israel.

Jordanian officials, speaking anonymously, said Yassin, who was freed to Jordan on Wednesday, will fly to Gaza in King Hussein’s helicopter Monday afternoon. Other unconfirmed reports said Hussein might also accompany him.

There were reports out of Jordan that Israel would also release dozens of Palestinian prisoners, including several Hamas leaders, as part of a deal to get back the alleged Israeli agents. Hamas was reportedly demanding the release of 22 Hamas prisoners, including some involved in planning suicide bombings in Israel.

The assassination attempt appeared likely to set back Israel’s effort to get Yasser Arafat to crack down on Hamas. Arafat told Associated Press Television that he would talk with Yassin and other leaders ``to strengthen more and more the Palestinian unity and the Palestinian coordination and cooperation in facing all these challenges.″

CNN, quoting unidentified sources, said Sunday that Hamas had offered Israel a 10-year halt in attacks before the assassination attempt. But Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, denied the report.

A special session of Israel’s Parliament was called for next week to discuss the assassination attempt. Labor lawmaker Haim Ramon demanded an official inquiry, and Meretz Party lawmaker Ran Cohen said Netanyahu should resign.

The Sunday Times of London said Netanyahu, furious over the Hamas attacks in Jerusalem, had overruled his own Mossad intelligence agency to order Mashaal’s assassination. Opponents reportedly argued that the action would jeopardize Israel’s relations with Jordan and Mossad’s operations there.

The Cabinet statement, however, said security officials bring their recommendations to the prime minister for authorization. ``Under no circumstances is the process forcibly reversed,″ it said.

But Israel TV said the military chief of staff, the head of military intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency were not informed about the attack _ which it said was a departure from normal procedures.

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