JERUSALEM – Israel's parliament called a special debate Tuesday on the threat posed by Jewish extremists opposed to settlement evacuation, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) for the first time acknowledged publicly that he feels at risk.
The violence erupted hours before envoys of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — were to meet in Jerusalem. The talks focused on Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza.
A diplomat in Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the participants said the withdrawal should be part of the "road map," a broader peace plan aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
The participants also discussed the dire humanitarian situation in the Palestinian areas with World Bank representatives, the diplomat said. The diplomats are scheduled to meet with Palestinian officials on Wednesday.
Sharon's plan to uproot all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza — as well as four isolated enclaves in the West Bank — has met resistance from hard-liners in Israel. Many settlers are religious Jews who believe the West Bank is theirs by divine promise.
While most settler leaders have said they will use only non-violent resistance, some rabbis and settler representatives have warned that violence could break out.
"The leadership of the rabbis and the settlement residents' leaders are not interested in a civil war. But it won't be possible to stop the train right at the edge of the abyss," Rabbi Shlomo Breen, head of a Jewish seminary in the West Bank, told Israel Radio on Tuesday.
Sharon, a patron of settlers for most of his career, has become the target of verbal attacks since announcing his withdrawal plan in February. He wants to complete the pullout by September 2005.
Sharon acknowledged Monday that he feels at risk, although government officials said there have been no specific warnings against him.
Sharon met with Justice Minister Joseph Lapid and asked legal authorities to act swiftly to quell any incitement, an official in the meeting said.
"It saddens me that one who has spent his whole life defending Jews in Israel's wars now needs to be protected from Jews out of fear that they will harm him," an official quoted Sharon as saying.
The Israeli parliament scheduled Tuesday's debate after Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet security service (search), warned this week that he was concerned about growing militancy among opponents to settlement evacuation.
The threat of violence strikes a deep chord in Israel. Many politicians and security officials still blame themselves for ignoring the warning signs ahead of the 1995 assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (search) by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to Rabin's peace efforts.
In the months leading up to the assassination, Jewish extremists branded Rabin a "traitor" for handing land to the Palestinians, and some rabbis issued religious rulings later seen has having encouraged the killing of the prime minister.
In the latest fighting, four Palestinians and an Israeli commando were killed during a military raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Nablus. The army said a fierce gunfight erupted after the soldiers moved into the area, and helicopter gunships fired three missiles.
Two leaders of the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (search) were killed. An unarmed university professor, Khaled Sallah, and his 16-year-old son were also killed in their home.
Relatives said the professor was shot as he tried to negotiate an exit from his home, and the boy was killed as he tried to rescue his father.
The army said the civilians had apparently been hit unintentionally during one of the missile strikes. "We regret that very much, but any time the terrorists use civilians as cover, these things happen," said Maj. Sharon Feingold, an army spokeswoman.
In the Gaza Strip, a 15-year-old Palestinian was killed in the Khan Younis refugee camp when Israeli tanks opened fire in the area, Palestinian officials said.
The army also said its soldiers had shot and killed two Palestinians who attacked an army post with gunfire and hand grenades. The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed responsibility for the attempted attack.