Anti-occupation Israeli professor wounded by pipe bomb

A pipe bomb exploded early Thursday morning next to the home of a prominent Israeli political scientist and critic of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, lightly injuring him, reported dpa.

Some hours later police found leaflets offering over one million shekels (290,000 dollars) to anyone who kills a member of the dovish Peace Now protest group.

Professor Ze'ev Sternhell was locking up his house in Jerusalem when the device exploded. He was wounded in the legs and was taken to hospital for treatment.

Police set up a special team to investigate the incident and beefed up security around Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer, following the discovery of the leaflets.

Israel Radio quoted police sources as saying the evidence pointed to extreme right-wing elements being responsible for planting the device that wounded Sternhell.

According to newspaper reports, Sternhell, 73, has been receiving threatening telephone calls for some time. Earlier this year a nationalist group, outraged by his critical comments about Israeli settlers and settlements, petitioned the High Court against his being awarded the Israel Prize, the country's highest civilian honour.

"I criticize that which needs to be criticized, to tell the truth even when it is unpleasant. That to me is the definition of what a good researcher is," he said when he received the award.

Politicians from across the Israeli political spectrum united in condemning the blast.

"We are returning to the sinister phenomenon of using bombs against people, in this case against a very capable man who has never been afraid to voice his opinion, because his position, which is the peace camp's position, is that of a liberal voice, a democratic voice, a sane voice amidst the incitement," Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.

"We will not allow anyone, from any dank corner of Israeli society, to persecute anyone else," he said.

"A dirty wave of radical and violent fanaticism is washing over Israeli society," Ophir Pines-Paz, of the Israel Labour Party, said. He said he would convene the Knesset Interior Committee "to ensure that the law enforcement agencies in Israel are prepared for this and know how to stop it in its tracks."

"Even though I disagree and am a bitter rival of the contemptible things that Ze'ev Sternhell wrote about settlers and people whom he doesn't agree with, I think that such a contemptible act is wrong," legislator Zvulun Orlev, of the pro-settlement National Religious Party, said.

Hawkish legislator Yuval Steinmatz, who once belonged to Peace Now before he changed his views, called the attack on Sternhell an attack on Israeli democracy and on the State of Israel.

"This is very dangerous and I condemn this with full force and hope that the ones responsible are caught and punished severely," he said.

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