Israel steps up officials security after death threats

JERUSALEM — Security around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increased in the wake of death threats from right-wing extremists opposed to his ceding more of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

The premier has convened a series of meetings with security officials and is taking the threats to his life seriously, said Uri Elitzur, Netanyahu's bureau chief.

In addition, Netanyahu reportedly has begun wearing a bulletproof vest and is limiting his public appearances.

The Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, has also beefed up protection for other top Israeli officials, including President Ezer Weizman and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.

Netanyahu's spokesman, David Bar-Illan, cited the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a reason for taking the threats seriously.

Jewish extremists in the West Bank town of Hebron are among those being questioned by the Shin Bet for allegedly promulgating some of the threats.

Tensions involving Hebron's Jewish settlers have increased after a rabbi was slain in his mobile home there Aug. 20 by a suspected Palestinian intruder.

On Sunday, Israel lifted a 24-hour curfew on Palestinians living in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron. The curfew, which affected some 30,000 Palestinians, was imposed after the slaying of Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan. Israel lifted a closure on travel to and from Hebron on Friday of last week.

There is also growing concern among security officials that right-wing extremists may try to sabotage Islamic sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to create a crisis with the Palestinians.

One of the scenarios involved a car bomb from Hebron to avenge Ra'anan's murder.

"We are obligated to make every effort to prevent any extremist from getting to such a point. I know that steps are being taken and I know of successful things that have been done," Mordechai said Sunday on Army Radio.

The Temple Mount was opened to tourists Sunday for the first time since Wednesday of last week, when Israeli police clashed with Muslim officials inside the compound. Police have denied Muslim claims that they acted violently when they entered the site to arrest a fleeing Arab.

Israeli police have not decided whether to increase security at the Temple Mount, although the site's top Muslim official announced plans to strengthen security there.

Regarding Jewish extremists and his own safety, Mordechai said: "They won't succeed in turning us from our path. If they think they can influence me, or my way and deeds, they are mistaken."

Mordechai is not changing his routine or donning a bullet-proof vest.

"I have a rule," he said. "I will only wear flak jackets in places where other soldiers wear them. In other places, I will behave like any Israeli civilian."

Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Shaul Yahalom of the National Religious Party demanded at Sunday's weekly cabinet session that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations be suspended entirely until the Palestinian Authority cracks down on terrorists.

Netanyahu responded with some unusually positive words about the self-rule government. Contrary to the situation in the past, he said, there is now no evidence of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas militants.