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Israel disarming Jewish extremists

Israel's Cabinet ordered some Jewish extremists disarmed and up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in an effort Sunday to smother Arab fury over the Hebron mosque massacre.

The violence did not abate. At least three Palestinians died as clashes between Arabs and Israeli troops spread across the occupied lands and the Jewish state itself, leaving the Middle East peace process still in jeopardy.

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat dismissed the Israeli government crackdown on Jewish extremists opposed to peace talks as "hollow and superficial."

"These are empty decisions which have no relation with the seriousness of the crime or with the basis of resolving it," Arafat said.

Arafat charged Israeli troops were involved in the bloodbath at the mosque Friday, a claim Israel has denied. The government says a lone Jewish settler attacked the victims with an assault rifle while they prayed.

The Arab League voted Sunday night to ask the U.N. Security Council to investigate the massacre. Its 22 members urged the United States and Russia to provide protection for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Arabs also played down the Cabinet's order for the release of Palestinian prisoners this week. Many of the inmates affected have served the bulk of their sentences and had been expected to be released next month as part of Israeli-PLO efforts to begin limited self-rule for Palestinians.

Despite criticisms of Israel's moves, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he hoped talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization would resume.

In Tunis, Arafat assembled the PLO leadership Sunday to decide whether to respond to an invitation by President Clinton to resume peace talks in Washington on Wednesday. Israel has said it will go.

Related Mideast peace talks in Washington were suspended after delegates from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan decided Sunday to withdraw to show solidarity with the PLO and to return home for consultations, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

Israel's environment minister, Yossi Sarid, said the 14-member Cabinet voted unanimously to disarm some Jewish extremists, forcibly if necessary, and was studying the legal position of outlawing extremist factions.

He said it "signals a new way of dealing with extremist settlers."

In other developments Sunday:

More than 1,000 people attended Dr. Baruch Goldstein's funeral in Kiryat Arba. Goldstein is the U.S.-born physician who opened fire in the mosque. "One Jewish fingernail is worth a million Arabs," said Rabbi Yaacov Peran during his eulogy.

An Associated Press check of hospitals determined that 62 Palestinians had been killed in violence since Friday, including 39 at the Hebron mosque. More than 350 were reported wounded. Earlier figures listed 65 dead and 360 wounded.

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.