Israeli security forces, cracking down hard on the occupied West Bank following last night's ambush that killed five Jewish settlers, today deported three prominent Palestinian leaders to Lebanon. They also placed this Arab cith under a 24-hour curfew while they searched house-to-house for the gunmen.
Army demolition teams blew up a row of Arab shops in the vicinity of the ambush, reducing half a block to rubble, and began arresting suspects for questioning about the attack, the worst in the West Bank since Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Concern that the entire Municipal Council of Hebron would resign, forcing the Army to take over the management of the city, diminished tonight when all the municipal leaders of the West Bank announced they would remain in their jobs and resist the Israeli occupation from within.
General strikes were declared throughout the West Bank, however, and Israeli security forces were placed on high alert.
A small group of ultranationalist settlers from Kiryat Arba, on the outskirts of Hebron, defied the curfew tonight and headed toward the city vowing to avenge the ambush killings, but were turned away by security forces who fired in the air to disperse the crowd. Some settlers who evaded roadblocks around the settlement smashed windows of Arab houses on the main road to Hebron, but were prevented from entering the city.
Amid outraged calls for even more stringent retaliatory measures, the Israeli government said that the inflammatory public statements by public figures in the West Bank, which officials said precipitated last night's bloody attack, would no longer be tolerated.
At 1 a.m. today, security forces arrested Hebron Mayor Fahd Kawasme, Mayor Mohammed Milhem of neighboring Halhoul, and Sheik Rajib Tamimi, Hebron's leading religious figure. They were transported by helicopter to the Lebanese border, where they took a taxi to beirut.
The ambush and the swift, predawn deportation of the Palestinian leaders cast a pall over the ongoing Egyptian-Israeli negotiations in Tel Aviv on West Bank-Gaza Strip autonomy.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil had already said before the Hebron incident that he was considering withdrawing his delegation unless significant progress is made tomorrow. Today's reprisals seemed to place the entire autonomy process in even more jeopardy.
Last night's gunfire and hand-grenade attack, in which 17 Israelis, including six young women, were wounded, signaled a new level of violence in the West Bank. The Israeli government reaction appeared to spell doom for the new militant Palestinian leadership under the aegis of the year-old National Guidance Council, of which Halhoul Mayor Milhem was a central figure.
The Israeli Army coordinator of the occupied territories, Maj. Gen. Danny Matt, said a "turning point" had been reached in West Bank Palestinian nationalism, and that the government was devising a new policy for containing the increasing incidence of violence. He did not make clear what the new policy will be.
But both Matt and West Bank military commander Brig. Gen Binyamin Ben-Eliezer left no doubt that the 21-member National Guidance Council, which has close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, would be a target of tighter controls.
They said no decision had been made to formally disband the council, which was formed in reaction to the Camp David accords to coordinate Palestinian opposition to the autonomy scheme, but informed government sources said it is only a matter of time before such action is taken.
Karim Khalaf, mayor of Ramallah, and Ibrahim Tawil, major of El Biera, both Guidance Council members, were summoned to military government headquarters today and reportedly warned that they will be held accountable for any public statements that could incite unrest.
Matt told reporters at the former Hadassah medical clinic here, where last night's ambush occurred, that Kawasme, Milhem and Tamimi were deported because of public comments they made on March 24, after a curfew on Hebron was lifted. It had been imposed after the murder of a 23-year-old religious student who had been walking alone in the city's teeming marketplace. r
During a municipal building rally, Kawasme advocated the use of forcible resistance to the occupation, predicting that the "Zionist empire will fall, just as the British empire and the Nazi empire fell before." Milhem was quoted as urging Palestinians to adopt a "position of power," and Tamimi declared that "Jews have to know this land has masters and is entirely Moslem."
When asked what connection the statements had to last night's ambush, Matt replied, "The road from declarations to actions is only a short way."
When asked why the three arab leaders were not deported when they made the statements, Matt said: "We restrained ourselves with the hope things would not reach the stage they reached last night. Before sending a schoolchild home, of course, a teacher first has to warn him and hope he will change his ways."
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, in a Voice of Israel radio interview, said he still believes coexistence between Jews and Arabs in the West Bank is possible, but he conceded it will be more difficult in the wake of last night's assault. "If we're going to be there [in the West Bank], we have to maintain law and order," Weizman said.
Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who in the early 1970s used harsh punitive measures to crush terrrorist uprisings in the Gaza Strip, suggested that similar actions may be necessary in the West Bank.
Among the actions taken in the Gaza Strip was extensive bulldozing of homes in refugee camps to widen narrow alleyways from which guerrillas could attack security patrols. Since then, Gaza has been relatively free from terrorist actions.
Army officials said the three or four gunmen -- the exact number has not been determined -- apparently were local Hebron residents, based on evidence left behind, including local-brand cigarette butts.
Ben-Eliezer said the gunmen hid on rooftops and in a doorway and waited for the procesion of yeshiva (religious school) students to make its way from the tomb of the patriarchs to the Hadassah Clinic, where they intended to have dinner with a group of settlers who have maintained a sit-in in the formerly Jewish-owned building since March 1979.
The gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons from at least three positions, while throwing six hand grenades, three of which exploded.
Ben Eliezer said the ambush had been planned for a long time and that the gunmen visited the site several times in preparation. He said that after the attack, they fled through a nearby cemetery and disappeared into the crowded Arab section.
Among the first to be hit by the fusillade of 200 or more bullets, authorities said, was a guard in a sentry box outside the Hadassah building.
The yeshiva students were fulfilling their military service by studying and preforming security duties at the nearby Kiryat arba settlement.
Among them was Eli Hazeev, an American immigrant and Vietnam veteran, who was struck by eight bullets in the back. Hazeev was arrested last year in connection with a vigilante attack by several Kiryat Arba residents on Arab homes in Hebron. The intruders beat several Arab residents and ordered them to leave Hebron. Hazeev was detained for about a week and released because of insufficient evidence.
Officials said Israeli soldiers inside the Hadassah building rushed out but were hampered in returning fire by fear of hitting the settlers.