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Israel Threatens to Revoke Citizenship of Arabs Suspected of Terrorism - 2002-08-06

For the first time in the country's history, Israel has threatened to strip Arabs of their citizenship, if they are suspected of involvement in terror attacks. The government says the move could help deter terrorism.

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has initiated proceedings to revoke the citizenship of two Arabs and warned that more actions could follow.

He called the action he has undertaken "a precedent-setting step" to deal with an unprecedented situation in which Israel is fighting for its existence. Mr. Yishai said that if he can save the lives of just one Jew, then he is justified in taking away the citizenship of Arabs linked to terrorism.

One of the two Arabs targeted by Mr. Yishai has moved to Lebanon, while the other is in an Israeli jail. The interior minister is also taking action against a third who is not a citizen but holds permanent residency.

The Arab citizen in prison is Haned Abu Kishak. He is linked to the Palestinian militant group Hamas and to several suicide bombings that led to the deaths of Israeli citizens. He is now facing trial on criminal charges.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised Mr. Yishai for what he said was a "correct, judicious and balanced decision." But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres criticized the plan, saying he does not believe it would be upheld by the Supreme Court.

An Arab member of the Israeli parliament, Ahmed Tibi, condemned the move as "part of the general atmosphere of assault on the Arab public". Mr. Tibi questioned whether Mr. Yishai would dare strip the citizenship of Jews who had harmed state security, such as Mordechai Vanunu, who was imprisoned for leaking details to the media of Israel's secret atomic weapons program.