An "evil wind of extremism" is threatening Israel's democracy, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Sunday, after a pipe bomb attack wounded a professor critical of Israel's settler movement.
Olmert's forceful comments came amid growing concerns in Israel about violence by hard-line radicals, including extremist West Bank settlers.
Israeli defense officials and human rights groups have noted a rise in settler violence against Palestinian soldiers and Israeli soldiers in recent months.
On Sunday, police were investigating the shooting death of a 19-year-old Palestinian shepherd whose body was discovered in ravine in a remote area of the West Bank. The shepherd's relatives blamed Jewish settlers, but police said they were still investigating.
Dozens smash windows of cars, homes
Also, dozens of Israeli civilians entered the Palestinian village of Kufr Diek in the West Bank late Saturday, smashing the windows of several cars and homes, said the mayor, Jamal al-Diek. Israeli troops fired stun grenades, and two villagers were hurt, the mayor said. The military denied firing grenades.
The rampage appeared to be in response to a shooting attack on an Israeli car in the area earlier Saturday. An Israeli was lightly hurt in the attack, the military said.
In Jerusalem, Olmert told his Cabinet at the start of its weekly meeting that police were asked to move as quickly as possible to arrest those involved in the bomb attack Thursday on Professor Zeev Sternhell, winner of Israel's prestigious Israel Prize. Sternhell, a vocal critic of West Bank settlements, was lightly wounded in the bombing, which took place outside his home.
Olmert said the attackers appeared to be part of "another underground" — a reference to extremists who bombed the cars of several Arab mayors, killed three students in a shooting spree at a West Bank university and masterminded a botched attempt to blow up a key Muslim shrine in Jerusalem in the 1980s.
"An evil wind of extremism, of hate, of maliciousness, of violence, of losing control, of lawbreaking, of contempt for the institutions of state, is passing though certain sections of the Israeli public," Olmert told the Cabinet.
Violence poses threat
The violence "is threatening Israeli democracy and the ability of those in charge in Israel to make decisions, and the ability of people to freely express opinions without fearing that they will be hurt by wild and violent people, people who break the law and break the framework of normal democratic life," Olmert said.
In citing interference in government decisions, he appeared to refer to warnings by hardline settler leaders that they will resist any attempt to dismantle Jewish settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The Sternhell case revived demands in Israel that the army and police do more to rein in radicals.
Jewish extremists often clash with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in the West Bank. The attack on Sternhell, if indeed politically motivated as police suspect, would be one of the most serious cases of political violence inside Israel since a Jewish ultranationalist assassinated then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
At the Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged tougher penalties for settlers who attack Palestinian property, the Haaretz newspaper reported. He told ministers that rampaging settlers rarely have been brought to court, and any penalties handed down have been extremely light, the newspaper said.