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Rabin Assents to Aid Office, not Protection

Russia and the US were split over Arafat's call for foreign troops in the occupied territories, presaging a wider conflict

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ISRAELI Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin yesterday brushed aside Palestinian demands for international protection in the wake of the Hebron massacre and warned the Russian government against supporting the idea.

Asked how he envisaged an ``international presence'' in the occupied territories, Mr. Rabin outlined plans for an aid donors' office in the Gaza Strip and Jericho - a far cry from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) call for a multinational force.

``What we have proposed is the donating countries that would like to help [having] an office in Gaza and Jericho ... from which they will conduct their relations with the Palestinian authorities in the spending of their money,'' Rabin told foreign journalists. ``We have agreed to an international presence,'' he said. ``Not to an international force presence.''

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, reportedly won Russian support for his demand that multinational forces be sent to the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO news agency, WAFA, said Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, visiting PLO headquarters in Tunis, had expressed ``comprehension and agreement with the Palestinian stand.''

That presaged a wider international conflict over sending observers to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories, a move that the US opposes.

Rabin said he was worried by what he called ``a slight change in Russian foreign policy, an attempt to be more active ... to be in a position to have their own input, hopefully in coordination with the United States,'' the other cosponsor of the Middle East peace process. ``I hope so, but I am not sure'' about the extent of coordination, he added.

``Whenever there is no cooperation between the two cosponsors, there is a possibility to try to exploit it by some of the partners in the negotiations,'' Rabin said, in a clear reference to the PLO.

Mr. Ivanov was due to arrive in Israel yesterday evening.

Addressing a lunch hosted by the Foreign Press Association, Rabin also promised further crackdowns on the extreme right-wing group Kach, to which Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler who killed at least 40 Palestinians in a mosque in Hebron last Friday, belonged.

The government has issued orders for the detention without trial of five Kach leaders and limited the movements of 18 more. ``They will be disarmed, and this is not a last figure,'' he said.

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