12:22 PM EDT Jun 10
JERUSALEM (AP) - Jewish extremists could open fire on troops during this summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, or even carry out a suicide attack to kill the prime minister, the outgoing chief of the Shin Bet security service warned in interviews published Friday.
Avi Dichter, who last month ended a five-year term as head of the Shin Bet, said Jewish extremists who have no qualms about firing on Israeli soldiers and police are currently holed up in a Gaza Strip hotel, which he predicted would be the final stronghold of resistance to the evacuation.
"Suicide attacks are not limited to the Palestinians. There can be Jewish suicide attackers. Their first target is the prime minister," Dichter told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
"We have no experience dealing with such extremists," said Dichter, who wielded great power in Israel during his tenure. He told the newspapers he was seriously considering entering politics.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and four West Bank settlements is set to begin in August.
An opinion poll published in Yediot Friday showed Israeli support for the Gaza withdrawal has dropped to 53 per cent from a high of 69 per cent in February. Opposition to the plan has risen from 27 per cent to 38 per cent, according to the poll. The survey, taken Thursday, questioned 501 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 per cent.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has included his main rivals Hamas and Islamic Jihad in efforts to coordinate the withdrawal with the Israelis. In a meeting with Abbas on Thursday, the Islamic militant groups agreed to abide by a truce for the time being, but warned they would strike back at any perceived Israeli transgressions.
Hoping to defuse a dispute over an upcoming parliamentary election, Abbas conceded some authority to Hamas and Islamic Jihad at the meeting, agreeing to set up a "national commission" to oversee preparations for the Israeli withdrawal.
Abbas wants to co-opt the militants rather than use force against them. But Dichter warned that Abbas would not retain power for long if he doesn't disarm the groups, especially since there is a fierce power struggle between Hamas and Abbas' ruling Fatah movement.
Abbas' ability to rein in the militants and prevent them from firing on withdrawing settlers and soldiers is shaky. While he was meeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders in Gaza on Thursday, other militants deployed nearby fired homemade rockets at Israeli towns for the third day in a row.
No casualties were reported, but such rocket fire provoked an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday. The tit-for-tat violence threatens to torpedo a tenuous truce declared at a Mideast summit in February.
Even if there is no Israeli-Palestinian violence during the pullout, Dichter forecasted massive looting in the settlements if Israel doesn't either sell the homes to the Palestinians or destroy them.
The army recently said the homes should be left intact despite a Cabinet decision to demolish them, but Dichter said he disagrees with the military's position.
"If it's a matter of Jewish property at the time of the exit, it has to be razed to the foundations. Otherwise, there will be a festival of looting . . . masses will swarm in to take the roof tiles and the faucets from the Jews," Dichter told the Haaretz daily.
"The Palestinian policeman who will stop them has yet to be born, and the idea of putting in an international force is simply a joke" because it wouldn't be able to "stop the wave," Dichter said.
© The Canadian Press, 2005
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