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Stones and Bullets Mark Eve of Palestinian Rule

A CROSS-COUNTRY funeral procession on Dec. 7 for two Jewish settlers shot dead on Dec. 6 focused growing anger among Israelis at the spiral of violence in the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, the West Bank town of Hebron was under a strict curfew to protect Palestinian residents from vengeful settlers, after the deaths of Mordechai Lapid and his 19-year-old son Shalom, who lived in the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

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The two were killed by gunfire sprayed from a passing car as they waited for a bus near the spot where a Jewish settler shot dead a Palestinian taxi driver, Talal Rushdie Bakri, on Dec. 4.

Their deaths brought to 11 the number of Israelis killed since the peace accord with the Palestinians was signed on Sept. 13; 31 Palestinians have been killed over the same period.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in Israel Dec. 7 as he shuttled around the Middle East to restart regional peace talks, said he had agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that they would react to the mounting violence ``by redoubling our efforts to seek peace.''

The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack on the Lapids, and in a leaflet published Dec. 7 warned the Israeli Army to ``prepare more body bags.''

Hamas also claimed responsibility for an ambush Dec. 2 in the West Bank town of Ramallah in which two other Israelis were killed as they fixed their broken car by the roadside.

The recent attacks mark a pattern of armed Palestinian hard-liners roving the roads in search of ``targets of opportunity,'' and Israeli Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ehud Barak acknowledged Dec. 6 that his men could not guarantee full security for settlers.

The mood in the occupied territories, especially in Hebron, a town holy to both Jews and Muslims as the burial site of the Patriarch Abraham, is growing increasingly ugly, and some observers fear anarchy.

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Implementation of Israel's accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization is due to begin on Dec. 13, with the withdrawal of the first Israeli soldiers from the occupied territories.

Palestinian radicals opposed to the deal are stepping up their attempts to sabotage the agreement, killing as many Israelis as possible in a bid to provoke the government into violent reaction.

At the same time, Jewish settlers have begun to take the law into their own hands: The current wave of violence in Hebron began Dec. 3, when settlers responded with gunfire to Palestinians throwing stones at them.

That incident, and the settlers' plans to set up their own militia, have prompted Israeli Attorney General Michal Ben Yair to brand the main settlers' organization, Yesha, a ``seditious body.''

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