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PLO’s No. 2 Tours Israel But Protestors Block Birthplace

September 13, 1994

HAIFA, Israel (AP) _ On the first anniversary of the PLO-Israel accord, a senior Palestinian official who signed for the PLO spent Tuesday touring Israel, but skipped his birthplace when protesters blocked the road.

″We must establish a comprehensive peace and a genuine coexistence between us and our neighbors, the Israelis,″ said Mahmoud Abbas, a founding member of the PLO’s main Fatah faction and the highest-ranking Palestinian official to visit Israel proper.

Abbas and Israeli Foreign Shimon Peres signed the Israel-PLO peace accord on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke at the event, but they did not sign the accord. All four leaders are considered front-runners for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

As he toured northern Israel Tuesday, several hundred Israeli protesters blocked the road to Abbas’ birthplace, Sefat, and accused him of responsibility for a May 1974 attack by Palestinian gunmen who infiltrated from Lebanon. Most of the 22 people killed in the attack on neighboring Maalot were high school students from Sefat.

″It is inconceivable that a murderer will enter our holy city,″ said Haim Asulin, who lost his left hand in the attack. ″He was directly responsible for the attack in Maalot.″

Palestinians rejected the protesters’ claims, noting Abbas was in Syria from 1970 through 1977 getting a degree in the history of Zionism.

″It is total nonsense. Mr. Abbas has no connection with this. He is a man of peace,″ said Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli adviser to Arafat.

Israeli terrorism expert Ariel Merari agreed, saying Abbas had no known links to the attack, which was carried out by a smaller branch of the PLO, not Fatah.

Nevertheless, Israeli Police Commissioner Asaf Hefetz asked Abbas to avoid provoking the demonstrators and postpone visiting Sefat, which he fled during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the state of Israel.

Sefat, known as the founding site of Jewish mysticism, is dominated by right-wing groups opposed to the peace plan. The opposition Likud party reportedly sought out the Abbas family home to rent as their headquarters.

During Tuesday’s tour, Abbas said the accord paved the way for Jordan and other Arab states to begin establishing ties with Israel.

″We hope Syria and Lebanon and other Arab countries will do the same,″ Abbas said, to cheers from the crowd of Arabs who turned out to greet him. ″We have struggled for a long time, but now we are living a new stage where the train of peace is on its tracks and we are sure the train will reach its destination.″

Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, played a key role in the secret talks in Oslo, Norway, that led to the Palestinian self-rule accord. But he fell out with Arafat over his autocratic ruling style, suggesting publicly that it was time for the older PLO leadership to make room for a new generation.

Although still a member of the PLO’s executive committee and often tipped as Arafat’s successor, Abbas recently withdrew from any public role. He arrived in the autonomous areas last week for a visit and is expected to move there, but said he had no immediate plans to join the self-rule authority.