The West Bank was left virtually without any civilian administration today when the remaining Arab mayors in the Israeli-occupied territory resigned over a government decision to deport Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka.
The new show of solidarity with Shaka came a day after 14 West Bank mayors resigned over the original government decision to deport the Nablus mayor for allegedly expressing sympathy for terrorists.
Today's resignations followed a ministerial reaffirmation of the deportation order. Stepping down were the mayors of Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho, Gaza Town, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur, Dura and Khan Yunis. Their action appeared to force the Israeli government into taking over the control of municipal services for 1.1 million Palestinian Arabs.
Some of the mayors issued warnings to Arab residents of the West Bank not to cooperate with Israeli military or civilian administrators who may attempt to move into municipal buildings, and not to respond to Israeli appeals to fill the vacuum created by the resignations.
Tensions continued to rise in the West Bank as Palestinian political leaders in Hebron announced a general strike that is to begin Thursday, and students in towns throughout the area demonstrated and threw stones at Israeli military and civilian vehicles.
Israel's High Court of Justice, which last Thursday issued a temporary restraining order against the deportation, still must hold a hearing, but government officials and Shaka will remain in prison until the High Court makes its ruling.
Meanwhile, Shaka announced through his attorney that he will begin a hunger strike in the Ramle prison, near Tel Aviv, where he has been held since Sunday on a disputed allegation that in a private conversation with a military official he expressed approval of a terrorist massacre two years ago on the Tel Aviv coastal road.
A transcript of the conversation Shaka had with Maj. Ge. Danny Matt, coordinator of the occupied territories, shows, however, that Shaka said he did not identify with such terrorist acts but that he warned that they were inevitable given Israel's 13-year-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The reaffirmation of Sunday's deportation order came today in a meeting of the ministerial defense committee, a Cabinet committee, amidst reports that Defense Minister Ezer Weizman was having second thoughts about the original decision.
The incident began last week when the Israeli daily Haaretz published a sensationalized account of the conversation between Shaka and Matt. Weizman, who learned of the exchange only after reading the newspaper, walked into the Israeli parliament to be confronted by angry legislators demanding that the Nablus mayor be expelled immediately. Subsequently, Weizman reprimanded Matt for the leak ot the newspaper.
Urgings by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut for the mayors to resign appeared to have forced the government to stand by its original decision.
The mayors reacted bitterly to the governments's decision on Shaka today, with El Biera Mayor Ibrahim Tawil saying, "We will stay, all of us, on our land, struggling for the right to peace and against those fascists and Zionists."
Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij predicted turmoil in the West Bank, declaring, "This is going to create chaos, confrontation and problems in the occupied territories. It will create extremism, hatred will breed hatred and both sides will suffer."
Ramallah Mayor Karim Khaalif, who along with Tawil is under indictment by the military government for allegedly assaulting security officers during a land expropriation court hearing, said, "It means they are going to get rid of the mayors and try to impose autonomy on our people."
Two events appeared to have worked against Shaka in his attempt to remain in office: an ultimatum by most of the West Bank mayors that they would resign if Shaka were not exonerated, and an appeal by the PLO headquarters in Beirut this morning for all West Bank political leaders to quit in support of Shaka and the PLO.
At a meeting of leading Palestinian figures in Hebron's town hall today, a resolution asserting the PLO as the sole representative of Palestinians was adopted unanimously along with a warning to West Bank residents to avoid cooperation with Israeli civil administrators.
The Israeli reaffirmation of the expulsion order came as Egyptian, Israeli and U.S. officials met in Tel Aviv for a working session on the autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
[In Cairo, Associated Press reported, Prime Minister Mutafa Khalil expressed concern that the case of the Nablus mayor would increase tension in the occupied territories during the negotiations."Israel pledged at Camp David to take measures to restore confidence between it and the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, but instead it is taking provocative actions," he said.]