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'Protect Vanunu' Plea to Archbishop

By Ian MacKinnon

JERUSALEM, April 26 - The Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu yesterday abandoned plans to worship at the Anglican cathedral where he has taken refuge, for fear that an assassin would infiltrate the congregation.

Mr Vanunu's brother, Meir, appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury to press Israel to allow his brother to leave the country.

The Israeli Government says that Mr Vanunu may not leave for at least a year because it says he could reveal more secrets and endanger national security. But the Government has also declined to offer Mr Vanunu any protection, despite threats against him.

Right-wing thugs from the outlawed Kahane movement clashed with Mr Vanunu's supporters and threw stones at his car as he completed 18 years in jail last week. One extremist, Itamar Bengevir, flung himself at the car and turned up outside the Jerusalem cathedral's residential quarters the next day, pledging to stalk the "traitor". "We will pursue Vanunu wherever he goes," Mr Bengevir told The Times last night. "He's hiding in church. Why's that? Because he's afraid of us. Wherever he goes we'll be there. He'll never be able to walk free until the last day of his life. My suggestion to him is to go back to prison. He'll never lead a normal life."

An Israeli human rights group demanded that the justice department should investigate the editor of the mass-circulation Maariv on "suspicion of incitement to murder". A reader poll asked what should happen to Mr Vanunu with one option: "Kill him".

Mr Vanunu, who was jailed for leaking nuclear secrets to The Sunday Times, yesterday remained hidden inside the cloistered gardens of St George's, with only two church wardens as security.

Mr Vanunu was offered sanctuary by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the Right Rev Riah Abu al-Assal, after his planned temporary address in Jaffa was leaked by the security establishment. Within hours, Mr Vanunu fulfilled a long-held desire by taking Holy Communion.

However, his brothers Meir and Asher recognize that the lodgings at the cathedral are only a temporary solution. Mr Vanunu is expected to leave the compound today where he had been staying in the quarters of the bishop, who returns to the country today.

Hopes that the Government would relent and allow him quietly to leave the country to avoid further embarrassment appeared groundless.

A spokesman in Ariel Sharon's office said that Mr Vanunu's release conditions were set because he was a security risk, adding: "The less we talk about him the quicker he will fade into oblivion."


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