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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 12:35 GMT
Ex-security chiefs chide Israel
Palestinians pass Israeli border policeman
The former Shin Bet chiefs said Israel must take the initiative
Four former Israeli security service chiefs have launched a scathing attack on the government's handling of the peace process with the Palestinians.

The men called for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and dismantle Jewish settlements, or face "disaster".

Their comments follow remarks last month by Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, who said Israeli measures have generated anger among Palestinians.

Israeli government officials called the men's criticisms naive.

Pull-out urged

The former heads of the Shin Bet security service delivered their unprecedented assault in newspaper and radio interviews.

We are taking sure, steady steps to a place where the State of Israel will no longer be a democracy
Ami Ayalon, ex-Shin Bet chief

"[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon has spoken often about the need for painful compromises, and there are no painful compromises except evacuation of settlements," Yaakov Peri, Shin Bet chief from 1988 to 1995, told the Yediot Ahronoth daily.

"We are heading downhill towards near-catastrophe. If nothing happens and we go on living by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and destroy ourselves," he said.

Speaking on Israel radio, Mr Peri called for Israel to take unilateral steps, saying: "We need to take the situation into our own hands and leave Gaza with all the difficulty that that entails."

'Shameful behaviour'

Mr Peri's successor, Karmi Gilon, who led the Shin Bet between 1995 and 1996, said the Israeli Government's strategy for handling the Palestinian uprising was short-sighted.

"It is dealing solely with the question of how to prevent the next terrorist attack," he said.

"It [ignores] the question of how we get out of the mess we find ourselves in today."

Avraham Shalom, who headed the service from 1980 to 1986, said Israel was heading for disaster if "we do not recognise once and for all that there is another people which is suffering and towards which we are behaving shamefully".

Ami Ayalon, Shin Bet chief from 1996 to 2000 and co-author of an unofficial peace plan, said that without a peace deal Israel was endangering its existence.

"We are taking sure, steady steps to a place where the State of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people," he said.

However, an unnamed Israeli Government official told Reuters news agency: "The situation is not as weak as [the former Shin Bet chiefs] describe," adding that Israel would relieve restrictions on Palestinians wherever it could.

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