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Israel bars arabs

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Israel drops bill to bar Arabs from some areas
Troops bomb home of a Hamas militant

By Dan Ephron, Globe Correspondent, 7/15/2002

JERUSALEM - Israel's Cabinet, reversing a controversial decision taken last week, decided yesterday not to support a bill that would bar Arabs from living in some Jewish communities, officials said.

Instead, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the matter would be relegated to a committee charged with reviewing constitutional matters.

Officials in Jerusalem said the Cabinet measure effectively meant that the legislation, introduced by right-wing lawmaker Haim Druckman of the National Religious Party, was being buried.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Israel bombed the home of a Hamas militant yesterday, wounding at least five people but failing to kill the apparent target.

Of the Cabinet's decision, Sharon's office said in a statement that the Cabinet had decided to ''oppose the proposed law by Haim Druckman or any other private bill on the issue that will be brought for a vote in the Knesset.''

''The Cabinet decided to refer the issue of Jewish settlement and community settlement to the public committee headed by Yaakov Ne'eman,'' Sharon's office said.

Ne'eman, a former finance minister, was appointed last week to direct a group of representatives from most parties in the parliament. He'll guide members in discussions on some of the country's most divisive issues, including the relationship between religion and state and the status of Israel's Arab minority.

Officials said the group will try to reach a consensus on those issues and recommend legislation that would form part of an Israeli Constitution. But discussions were expected to last months if not years.

''They will make their first recommendations by late October but that doesn't mean this issue will be included in the recommendations,'' said Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, who abstained last week when the government voted to back the bill on Jews-only communities.

''I think sending the matter to the committee is an elegant way of burying it, and that's a good thing,'' Sheetrit said.

Yesterday's decision was only the latest twist in a saga that began in 1995 when an admissions committee for the town of Katzir in northern Israel prevented Adel Kaadan and his family from buying land in the community because they were Arab.

High Court judges ruled for Kaadan in a landmark decision two years ago, but Katzir still refuses to grant his family residency.

The bill, though affecting only a small number of Jewish communities in Israel, would have sanctioned their right to reject Arabs because of their ethnicity.

Last week's Cabinet decision to support the legislation caused an outcry in Israel and abroad. Coalition members from the centrist Labor party, who had been absent during the vote, demanded a review of the decision.

Sharon, at the start of yesterday's meeting, suggested having the Ne'eman committee evaluate the matter. Twenty-two Cabinet members supported the idea and two - both from Druckman's National Religious Party - opposed it.

Labor party members also spoke out at the Cabinet meeting against the closing of the Jerusalem offices of Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University and one of the most moderate voices among Palestinian leaders.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the Cabinet the move was a mistake because Nusseibeh was precisely the kind of Palestinian figure Israel should be cultivating, according to people who attended the meeting.

A few hours after the Cabinet meeting, an Israeli F-16 warplane attacked the of home of Youssef Abed al-Wahab, a leading Palestinian militant in Hamas - the Islamic group behind scores of suicide bombings against the Jewish state.

Several missiles slammed into the building in southern Gaza but Wahab, hearing the planes overhead, slipped out of the home seconds before the strike, witnesses said.

The Israeli army had no comment on the mission, but security sources told the Reuters news agency that the home served as a bomb factory for Hamas.

The stike disrupted a trial Palestinian police were holding in a nearby precinct for a man suspected of collaborating with Israe1. The ensuing chaos ended up costing the man's life.

Abdel Hai Shababi was on trial for allegedly supplying Israel with information that soldiers used to kill five Hamas militants in Gaza.

The court was in recess when the shooting began. Police officers began fleeing the building in fear of an Israeli strike on their precinct. At that moment, several Hamas militants forced their way into the room where Shababi was being held and shot him dead.

Palestinians say Israel runs a network of paid collaborators in the West Bank and Gaza who are used to monitor militants and provide the army with information on their whereabouts.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/15/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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