January 6, 2010 / 7:45 AM / 10 years ago

Israel's Barak getting death threats, official says

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has received dozens of death threats from people who fear that Jewish settlements in the West Bank will be disbanded, a defense official told Reuters on Wednesday.

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak smiles during the Labour Party Conference, in Brighton in southern England September 29, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

In November Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angered settlers by ordering a partial freeze on new housing in the settlements lasting 10 months, in what the government said was an attempt to persuade Palestinians to return to U.S.-sponsored peace talks suspended a year ago.

“Dozens of threats have been received in recent weeks against the (defense) minister in the form of letters,” said the official, who declined to be named.

The threats on Barak’s life were in connection with the fate of the West Bank settlements, the official said, adding that that “security measures have been stepped up accordingly.”

About half a million Jewish settlers live on land Palestinians want for a future state in the West Bank.

Israel has come under increasing international pressure, particularly from the United States, to halt all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank which it captured in a 1967 Middle East war.

Israel’s Shin Bet internal intelligence service has a division for tracking potential threats from Jewish ultra-nationalist quarters.

A security source said the division believes that there are “a couple of dozen” settlers or sympathizers who would be willing to attack an Israeli government figure in a bid to scotch West Bank withdrawal.

In 1995 an ultra-nationalist Jew opposed to peacemaking with the Palestinians assassinated then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who led a peace drive, severely disrupting peace efforts for years to come.

The security source said there might be up to a further 1,000 people who would support attacks on a senior Israeli government official.

Reporting by Dan Williams, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by David Stamp

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