Israel hustles to boost security for Barak after settlers threats

Shlomo Riklin, a leader of the Second Generation group of young settlers, warned that Barak's "days could be numbered" if he uproots Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The group has set up outposts on West Bank hilltops to try to prevent land transfers to the Palestinians.

Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami was assigned personal bodyguards after he was threatened by right-wing extremists who condemned his involvement in the final-status talks.

Last week, demonstrators outside Ben-Ami's Kfar Sava home reportedly yelled: "We know where you live," and "You're a marked man."

Ben-Ami insisted he was not spooked by the threats. After meeting with settler leaders in his office on Sunday, the minister said, "We have to be sensitive, though. We have already suffered a trauma that maybe sharpens our sensitivities."

He also reported that during the meeting, the issue of threats against the prime minister was raised.

Sources said that some extremists in the settler community have solicited rabbis to issue edicts supporting Barak's assassination.

Rabbi Daniel Shilo of Kedumim, in a recent local newspaper article, wrote that relinquishing areas of Israel is a serious crime against the Jewish people and a betrayal of the Torah traditions.

"The blindness of the leadership is the same blindness that allowed the Holocaust," he wrote. Another leader reportedly referred to negotiations with the Palestinians as "war crimes."

Barak said at a cabinet meeting that while he respects the settlers' movement, no attack could stop the peace process.

Foreign Minister David Levy called on religious figures "to be careful in your remarks because you are spiritual leaders. Declarations which are dangerous could, God forbid, bring upon us another blow we cannot bear," Levy said.

He made the comment at a meeting with Jewish settler leaders, who were quick to denounce any incitement to violence, but vowed to intensify protest actions to oppose any attempt to leave tens of thousands of settlers under Palestinian Authority control in a final-status deal.

"We will not support any development that will lead, God forbid, to any incitement to assassinate the prime minister or any other Israeli leaders," settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein told reporters in Jerusalem.

The settler leaders had asked to meet with Levy to clarify recent speculation that Barak had agreed to hand over up to 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

Barak denied the speculation, but told his party last week that he would consider it a "historic achievement" if a final deal resulted in 80 percent of the Jewish settler population remaining under Israeli sovereignty.

An Israeli television report said that in an internal meeting with senior police officers last week, the head of police intelligence, Commander Haim Klein, reported an increase in death threats against the premier.

In recent weeks, Israel and the Palestinians have traded accusations of dragging out the negotiations.

Also, Barak and Arafat recently sparred on the issue of Jerusalem.

Barak told his negotiating team to not discuss the status of Jerusalem with the Palestinians for now, according to a cabinet statement.

Arafat reacted by saying that Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state, adding that if Israelis don't like the idea, "They can go and drink the Dead Sea."

Throughout the week, settlers reportedly have been demonstrating outside Barak's residence and at intersections throughout the country, and preparations are also under way to organize a large rally in Tel Aviv.