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Israel's Defense Minister Receives Death Threats

Ehud Barak said to have received dozens of threats from Jewish militants who oppose partial freeze on West Bank settlement construction

An Israeli concession on Jewish settlements has prompted death threats against a senior official.

Security has been tightened around Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak after he received dozens of death threats. Security sources say the threats were made by Jewish militants who oppose the government's partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. The freeze was imposed in November under pressure from the United States, which sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace.

The death threats are being taken seriously. In 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Orthodox Jew opposed to his policy of trading land for peace with the Palestinians.

Parliamentarian Yisrael Hasson is a former deputy head of the Shin Bet security service.

Hasson told Israel Radio that the threats are reminiscent of the atmosphere of incitement that led to the Rabin assassination.

It is a charged issue. Many of the settlers are religious Jews who believe that settling all the biblical Land of Israel is a commandment from God. But settlement leader and Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun says sending death threats is heresy.

The rabbi said, "A person who writes such things is not religious, not a believer, does not fear God, and does not serve the interests of the Bible and the Land of Israel."

On the other hand, Itamar Ben Gvir, known to be among the most militant settlers, played down the threats.

Ben Gvir told Israel Radio it is "cheap spin" by Defense Minister Barak. He accused Barak, who heads the left-wing Labor Party, of incitement against the settlers and the Israeli right.

But security sources say there are about two dozen Jewish extremists who would be willing to attack senior Israeli officials. They warn that threats could turn to deeds if Israel decides to dismantle settlements under a peace agreement with the Palestinians.