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Middle East embarks on momentous week

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Israel is approaching peace with an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gave security forces the green light to hunt down and kill military leaders of the Muslim movement waging a war of terror against Israelis, officials said Sunday.

But the policy, a response to public anger at the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, is matched by official approval of a peace treaty with Jordan and renewal of talks with Palestinians on self-rule.

Even Rabin's main opposition, the conservative Likud faction, said Sunday it would support the Jordan-Israel pact. The Israeli parliament is expected to ratify the treaty Tuesday, and President Clinton will join Israelis and Jordanians for the official signing.

Also Sunday, security officials announced the arrests of dozens of members of the Hamas Islamic group. The arrests were part of a crackdown begun after the attack last week on a Tel Aviv bus, which is now said to have killed 22 victims and the bomber. A 61-year-old Israeli woman died Sunday of her wounds.

A self-avowed "living martyr" from Hamas carried out the bombing. In a Hamas videotape issued after the attack, Saleh Abdel Rahim al-Souwi, 27, of the occupied West Bank, said farewell to his family and friends, the normal practice of Islamic guerrillas about to embark on suicide missions.

Some Palestinians waved off the arrests as involving only low-level Hamas supporters. But a senior Israeli official said that they belonged to the group's armed wing and that some were suspects in attacks that preceded the bus bombing on Wednesday.

Official word of the arrests came as the government moved to widen the separation of Israelis and Palestinians, already considerable because of a post-bombing ban that has kept West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs from entering Israel.

Cabinet ministers voted to increase the number of authorized foreign construction and farm workers by more than 50 percent, from 35,000 to 54,000 _ mostly Romanians, Bulgarians, Thais and Chinese.

The vote means that whenever the ban on Palestinians is lifted _ and no end is in sight _ there are likely to be far fewer Arabs allowed on Israeli streets than the roughly 60,000 workers who entered each day from the territories before the bus attack.

The action made some Cabinet ministers uneasy. Not only would it hit many Palestinians hard in their already-threadbare pocketbooks, it also could help Hamas by undermining the fledgling Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat, which runs Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho.