Militants are hunted MKs argue over blame

JERUSALEM — Propelled by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, security and government officials are starting to crack down on militant Jewish extremists.

The crackdown came as an initial inquiry into the assassination by the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence service, found serious flaws in the functioning of all those responsible for the prime minister's security. The head of the Shin Bet division charged with protecting dignitaries resigned and three other agents were suspended after the results of the inquiry were presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday.

The Cabinet agreed to establish a state commission that would launch a separate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assassination.

The crackdown came amid harsh recriminations and countercharges from a number of public figures, including Rabin's widow, about who bore responsibility for creating the climate in which the assassination could take place.

The bitter dispute was launched a day after Rabin's funeral, despite earlier calls for a period of restraint that some had hoped would last throughout the official seven-day mourning period known as shiva.

As Israeli officials announced Tuesday that they would seek legislation targeting incitement to violence, a police spokesman said four people from the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba had been detained after they welcomed the assassination in a TV interview.

On Wednesday, police arrested the leader of the shadowy extremist group Ayal, Avishav Raviv, on charges of conspiring in the assassination.

Raviv admitted in court that he had heard threats from the confessed assassin that he was planning to kill Rabin. But Raviv said he had not taken them seriously.

Police also continued efforts to establish whether Yigal Amir, the 25-year-old Israeli who confessed to the killing, had any accomplices or links to Jewish extremist groups.

His brother Hagai, 27, was detained Sunday, and a day later he admitted before a Tel Aviv judge that he had altered the bullets used in the assassination to make them more lethal by hollowing out the points. But he denied knowing of his brother's plans to kill Rabin.

As police rounded up extremists on charges of incitement, dozens of members of far-right groups reportedly went underground to avoid arrest.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister David Libai said revisions had to be made to the country's freedom of speech law to exclude incitement as a form of protected speech.

Current laws "were not enough to provide efficient answers for protecting democracy," Libai said in a statement.

Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, meanwhile, told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz that he was worried about the possibility of another political assassination.

Rabin's assassin had obviously acted after developing an outlook that rationalized such an attack, Ben-Yair said, adding that democratic principles were not instilled deeply enough in some segments of Israeli society.

Extremist rhetoric and diatribes against Rabin have been widely blamed for contributing to the assassination. By Tuesday, inciteful graffiti began to reappear on the streets of Israel.

Police were investigating one incident in which a slogan had been scrawled on a wall in Jerusalem: "Rabin is a victim of peace and Peres is next in line."

And at the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Amos, a sign reportedly read: "We are all Yigal Amir. No entry to Arabs."

There was also an incident reflecting an angry backlash at settlers, whose protests against the Rabin government sometimes included hot statements denouncing the late leader as a traitor, murderer and Nazi.

An unidentified Israeli man defaced the grave of the gunman who carried out the February 1994 Hebron massacre, telling a reporter that the act was in protest of the Rabin assassination. The Kiryat Arba gravesite of Baruch Goldstein had been turned into a shrine by settlers who believed that the massacre of Arabs was a heroic act.

In the political arena — amid the calls for unity, restraint and responsibility in the wake of the Rabin slaying — Knesset members began slinging accusations back and forth.

Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni blamed leaders in the Likud, specifically party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, of tolerating right-wing calls to violence, and of fostering it in some instances.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Leah Rabin, the late prime minister's widow.

Speaking of the "horrible language and horrible pictures" of her husband at right-wing rallies, she said Netanyahu "was there, and he didn't stop it."

"I do blame them," she said.