Israel's Cabinet, responding to demands by Jewish settlers for tougher security measures in the West Bank, said today there will be "no compromise" in efforts to protect both Jewish and Arab residents of the Israeli-occupied territory.
The statement, issued on a day when settlers disrupted traffic in the West Bank by erecting more than a dozen roadblocks to press their demands, appeared unlikely to satisfy the settlers.
The surge in demands for tougher security measures has been fed by several recent incidents in the West Bank, including the firebombing of an Israeli car last week. The driver died Thursday of burns.
Last week also, an Israeli bus traveling south of Jerusalem was hit by gunfire, and the driver was wounded in the foot.
In apparent reaction to the shooting incident, the Israeli Army swept through the Dheisheh Refugee Camp south of Bethlehem on Friday and arrested dozens of young men. Today, some women residents of the camp peacefully demonstrated to protest the arrests.
There were no serious incidents reported in connection with the roadblocks set up today by the settlers. However, one group of settlers fired weapons into the air near a refugee camp north of Jerusalem when residents of the camp attempted to erect their own roadblock.
The increasingly vocal demands of the settlers reflect their deep suspicion of the leadership of the national unity government here, particularly Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Peres and Rabin are members of the Labor Party, which traditionally has opposed the most militant of the settlers' organizations. A number of settler leaders have called for Rabin's resignation.
In a radio interview today, Elyakim Haetzni, a leading spokesman for the settlers, blamed the unrest in the West Bank on the Palestine Liberation Organization and compared the situation to that faced by the Israeli Army in southern Lebanon.
"The war that the PLO wages against us on the roads has reached almost Lebanese dimensions," he said. "And I think it is about time to broadcast to the Israeli government that this is not Lebanon and will never be Lebanon. Maybe somebody hopes that, as in Lebanon, our Army and our government will run away from kerosene bottles and molotov cocktails, shooting and hand grenades."
Rabin was quoted today as denying claims by settlers that there has been a sharp increase in recent weeks in attacks on Jews in the territory. He pledged to "seek ways and take steps to nip this in the bud," but he added that the Army was hampered by recent budget cuts that have forced it to reduce its presence in the West Bank.