The Sunday Times (U.K.)
May 19, 2002
Sharon is warned of assassination plot by radical Jews
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
THE Israeli internal security service, Shin Beth, fears a radical Jewish group is planning to assassinate Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, who has been warned by intelligence advisers to keep public appearances to a minimum.
Shin Beth has identified extremists in settlers' groups as the likely plotters, and has activated agents to infiltrate their underground networks.
The settlers have been infuriated by Sharon's support for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. After he reiterated it at last weekend's conference of his Likud party, security was tightened around his ranch in the Negev desert.
Shin Beth is still haunted by its failure to protect Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated in 1995 by a fanatical opponent of his plan to trade land for peace.
A recent plot to bomb an Arab girls' school was foiled by Shin Beth but convinced its senior officers that the militants were a growing menace.
Two weeks ago a police patrol was sent to Jerusalem's Arab neighbourhood of A-Tur to look for a suspicious vehicle. Next to the school two officers found a car with Israeli registration plates towing a trailer that two men were trying to detach.
The police were suspicious about the presence of Jews in an Arab neighbourhood during the intifada but were about to release them when they were told by radio to check the trailer. It was found to be loaded with explosives, and a timer primed to go off at 7.35am, just as the girls would have been arriving at school.
A search of the car yielded illegal arms and the men were taken for interrogation in Jerusalem. A court ordered a news blackout and Sharon was informed that a potential bloodbath had been averted. "Foiling that plan was more important to us than the exposure of an Arab suicide bomber," said one security officer.
Two further suspects were arrested later. "These are not innocent people, these are murderers," said a source close to the inquiry.
Spanish radio reported last night that an agreement had been reached on the final destinations of 13 Palestinian militants taken out of the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last week. Spain and Italy are each to take three of the militants, Greece and Ireland two each, and Portugal, Finland and Cyprus one each. The 13 are currently in Cyprus.