ICEJ NEWS - 08/27/2001
The Palestinian war against Israel has heated up again, as eight Israelis have been killed in commando raids and terrorist ambushes from Saturday through Monday, prompting IDF strikes at numerous Palestinian police positions. PLO chief Yasser Arafat and other Arab leaders were already livid at the Israeli responses and American verbal and material support for them, even before an IDF hit on the head of a militant PLO faction in Ramallah today ratcheted regional tensions to new levels.
It was a grisly weekend for Israel, as three IDF soldiers were killed by two Palestinian commandos who infiltrated their fortification in southern Gaza before dawn Saturday, and an Israeli couple was killed in a roadside ambush on their car near Givat Ze'ev late that evening. The couple's two small children survived the terrorist attack with light injuries, but the wife's brother was fatally wounded and later died on Sunday, just as another Israeli man was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen near the entrance to an Arab village on the old Green Line north of Tulkarm.
Israel struck back with jet fighters, helicopters and tanks pounding Palestinian Authority security positions into rubble, yet another signal to Arafat to finally take action against the terrorist network operating from within his fiefdom. But the PLO and their Arab allies condemned the IDF raids, as well as the US for providing weapons systems used in the strikes. They also lashed out at US President George W. Bush for his comments on Friday that essentially blamed Arafat for the on-going violence.
With Arab tempers already at the boiling point, there was swift, harsh reaction today when IAF helicopters targeted the Ramallah office of the top leader of the PFLP, a rejectionist PLO faction responsible for a recent string of car bombings in Jerusalem and elsewhere inside Israel. Palestinian factions across the board are vowing revenge, and yet another Israeli motorist has been shot and critically wounded this evening near Nablus in an ambush claimed by the PFLP.
A. ISRAELI CASUALTIES MOUNT:
The deadly assault on the IDF's Marganit outpost near Khan Yunis in Gaza on Saturday took the Israeli military by surprise. It was the first successful infiltration of an IDF base in 11 months of fighting and bore the hallmarks of Hizb'Allah assaults on IDF fortifications in south Lebanon in recent years.
The operation was carried out under cover of darkness by two well-trained and well-armed Palestinian commandos who were at first linked to the Damascus-based Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The DFLP is a radical Marxist PLO faction founded in 1969 by Jordanian Christian Nayef Hawatmeh to rival Arafat's main Fatah movement, and is credited with one of the bloodiest Palestinian terrorist operations ever - the 1974 massacre at a school in Ma'alot in northern Israel that left 25 people dead, including 21 children. The DFLP, however, had seen limited action up until now in the renewed intifada.
With the help a third person serving as a guide, the two Palestinians, both former PA security officers, crept up to the gate of the Marganit base near Atzmona, one of several elevated IDF fortresses raised over the flat Gazan landscape. Using assault rifles and grenades, they were able to take the two IDF guards by surprise, killing one as the second ran to awaken the rest of the garrison, manned by 12 troops from the Givati brigade.
Once inside the ramparts, the two terrorists split up, firing about 40 rounds each and tossing as many as ten grenades. In the ensuing gun battle, three Israeli soldiers were killed before the two Palestinians were gunned down themselves. Two of the IDF soldiers, including the deputy battalion commander, were shot dead when they arrived on the scene from a nearby base. One Palestinian gunman managed to flee the outpost, but was located and killed just after daybreak.
The Israeli dead included 30-year-old IDF Major Gil Oz, plus recruits Kobi Nir and Tzach Grabli. Seven other soldiers were wounded, at least one seriously. An inquiry has been ordered by the army to ascertain how the outpost's defenses were so easily breached.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called it a "very grave" incident and said it provided "further proof of the involvement of the Palestinian Authority's support and active participation in terror." Other Israeli leaders also pointed the finger of blame at Arafat, stressing the gunmen wore PA police uniforms until recently.
But in a statement released in Damascus, the DFLP termed it a "heroic attack [that] comes in response to the ugly war of aggression launched by the criminal Sharon government against our people and the assassinations and incursions." But Israeli security said the DFLP made the claim to protect a Fatah terror cell that was really behind the attack.
In a videotape made before the attack, the two Palestinian gunmen were shown with Kalashnikov rifles, seated in front of a Palestinian flag. "I donate myself to God and our people," said one.
The two slain gunmen were declared Palestinian "heroes" upon their swift burial later in the day in their hometown of Rafah. Meanwhile, PA security forces throughout Gaza abandoned their positions and some even roused residents in Khan Yunis and urged them to head for the far end of town, in anticipation of Israeli reprisals.
The IDF immediately cut off a number of key roads in the Gaza Strip, and then around midnight Saturday, an armored IDF force drove into the PA-ruled town of Rafah. Using tanks and armored bulldozers, they demolished several buildings belonging to the PA police, including their main headquarters in southern Gaza. The IDF said that one of the attackers at the Marganit outpost had been stationed there. The IDF task force came under heavy gunfire. One PA policeman was reported dead and at least two wounded. During the incursion, the loudspeakers on the mosques called on residents to join the jihad against Israel. The army also destroyed two roadblocks near Morag and a position further north on the road between Netzarim and the Karni Crossing.
Sunday morning, the PA police chief in Gaza, Brig.-Gen. Ghazi Jabali, surveyed the damage and said his men were "soldiers who will fight to the end in our just battle."
Meanwhile, late Saturday night three Israelis were killed and two children lightly wounded when terrorists shot at their vehicle along the Givat Ze'ev-Modi'in road. Yaniv and Sharon Ben-Shalom, of Ofarim in western Binyamin, were killed, and their two baby girls, Efrat and Shachar, 18 and 8 months old, were lightly wounded. In her last act, Sharon protected her two babies from the bullets by lying atop them, thus saving their lives. Sharon's brother, Doron Sabari, 21, driver of the vehicle, also died Sunday evening after suffering critical wounds in the roadside ambush. The Fatah-affiliated "Al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigade" claimed it had perpetrated the attack.
Later Sunday, an Israeli man was murdered by terrorists outside the Arab village of Zeita, near Kibbutz Magal on the Israeli side of the pre-1967 border. Dov Roizman, 58, of Netanya was shot several times by two Palestinian gunmen who apparently knew he would be in the vicinity on business. The Fatah Al-Aksa Brigade again claimed responsibility for the attack.
B. IDF FIREWORKS:
Facing mounting casualties, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ben-Eliezer authorized a series of reprisal raids on PA security posts yesterday, with F-15s and F-16s joining Apache helicopters and IDF tanks in attacking a number of selected targets. In Gaza, these included the Palestinian military intelligence and police headquarters in Dir el-Balah and the four-story Palestinian Police headquarters in Gaza City, flattening the structure. Most sites were already evacuated, although one Palestinian policeman was reported killed and over a dozen injured in the raids.
In Judea/Samaria, the targets included three PA security positions around Ramallah, one in the village of Salfit near Nablus, and one in Tulkarm, with most structures again being empty. Eight people were reported wounded in these attacks. In addition, an Israeli tank crew shot and killed a terrorist in Gaza early yesterday morning as he tried to infiltrate into Israel.
During the attacks in Gaza, at least half a dozen IAF combat helicopters reportedly hovered near Arafat's headquarters, but did not engage in action. Upon his return from the Far East, Arafat again brandished his German-made mini-machinegun while visiting a bombed-out police building in Rafah.
C. PLO RILED AT WASHINGTON:
Israel's use of American-made warplanes and weapons brought fresh charges from Palestinians that the US government is leaning heavily in Israel's favor. In Gaza City, Palestinians showed a metal fragment with the name of a US-made bomb. PA officials also reacted angrily to pointed remarks by President Bush aimed at Arafat.
When asked Friday about an Israeli incursion into a PA-ruled part of Hebron, Bush stated, ""It is time that it be understood that Israel will not negotiate under fire, and Arafat must stop his threats and suicide killers... As simple as that. And if the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue, then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put a hundred percent effort into stopping the terrorist activity. And I believe he can do a better job of doing that."
Israeli officials were buoyed by the strong endorsement of their policies, which came in concert with the US threat to veto a PLO-backed resolution at the UN Security Council calling for foreign monitors and Washington's looming decision to boycott the UN conference on racism in Durban because the Arab/Muslim states plan to "pick on our ally Israel," as Bush put it.
But Arafat - who marks his 72nd birthday today - snapped back that the US has failed to implement diplomatic agreements it helped broker. Other PA officials were much less restrained, accusing the US of giving Israel a "green light" to "assassinate" Palestinians, as well as the means to do it.
PA Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo asserted that Bush's comments were an attempt to "obstruct" European mediation between Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He concluded, "the United States would bear primary and full responsibility for the continuation of violence, the victims on both sides, and pushing the entire region towards a violent unknown."
Meanwhile, Arafat's official Wafa news agency ran an editorial on its Web site Sunday harshly denouncing Bush's remarks, saying he "looked very ugly and pathetic." The article suggested that Bush was simply courting American Jews ahead of the next election, and asked, "How can the leader of the most powerful country in the world stand in such [a] humiliating way and condemn the people being slaughtered, and support their executioners?
D. IAF HITS CAR BOMB SPECIALIST:
The growing rift between the PLO and the Bush Administration widened even further today when the IAF used its US-made Apache helicopters to fire three rockets at the Ramallah office of Mustafa Zibri, also known as Abu Ali Mustafa, the senior leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killing him instantly and wounding four others. Israel's security cabinet approved the strike last night, based on evidence he orchestrated a series of car bombings - his "specialty" according to Sharon spokesman Ra'anan Gissin - and was preparing more.
Last July, Ali Mustafa took over leadership of the PFLP from its founder George Habash. The PLFP is another radical Marxist PLO faction that rejected the Oslo peace talks with Israel and found a home in Damascus. It was notorious in the 1970s and 80s for a string of terrorist attacks, including the hijacking of four airliners in 1970 that set off the "Black September" revolt in Jordan and the diversion of an Air France flight to Entebbe in 1976. Among its operatives was the ruthless terrorist "Carlos the Jackal."
But two years ago, Arafat asked Israeli leader Ehud Barak to allow Ali Mustafa into the territories as part of a supposed effort to unify PLO ranks behind a final deal with Israel. Barak consented, provided Ali Mustafa sign a pledge not to engage in terrorism or incite to violence against Israel.
Ali Mustafa came to PA areas in September 1999 after the PA said it would restrain his terror activities. Among the first to welcome him was chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat. But from the onset of the intifada last September, Ali Mustafa established a military cell that operated throughout the "West Bank" and instructed them to carry out attacks inside Israel.
The Israel army today said the PFLP faction under Ali Mustafa was responsible for dozens of attacks on Israelis, including at least eight booby-trapped bombs in vehicles in Jerusalem, Haifa, Yehud and elsewhere that wounded at least 16 Israelis. He was behind last week's car bombing in the Russian compound area in downtown Jerusalem, as well as the watermelon bomb found on a bus near Jerusalem's large Malha shopping mall several weeks ago.
Israeli security sources also charge Ali Mustafa's operatives with numerous shooting attacks on Israelis and say he had built a spy network among East Jerusalem Arabs, some of whom were arrested last week. Israel today said he reportedly was planning a further series of bombing attacks to be carried out imminently, and thus defended its pre-emptive strike as an action meant to save Israeli lives with a minimum of harm to non-combatant Palestinians.
"Contrary to his promises, he continued with terrorist activities and was responsible for dozens of attacks on Israel," the army said in a statement.
E. SWIFT PALESTINIAN REVENGE:
The Palestinian reaction, however, was unusually hostile, with Erekat accusing Sharon of "inviting hell to break loose. Abu Ali Mustafa is a very prominent Palestinian political leader and we hold the Israeli government responsible for this act of state terrorism."
A statement from the Palestinian Authority said that the Israeli government had "opened the gates to an all-out war... All the red lines have been crossed," the statement said, adding that Israel took advantage of the "green light" it had received from the US. The Palestinian leadership also declared three days of mourning in which all stores would be closed.
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi said the hit on the PFLP leader is a "declaration of war." He called upon Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah to react jointly. Leila Khaled, a member of the PFLP central committee, who was involved in the past in hijacking planes, concurred that all the Palestinian organizations must join together and avenge Mustafa's death.
Arafat and several Israeli Arab MKs will take part in his funeral. Arab MK Ahmed Tibi charged Israel with "state terrorism" and "war crimes," insisting, "Whoever gave the order to assassinate Abu Ali Mustafa, at the same moment, pressed the button that will kill dozens of Israelis."
Other Arab leaders condemned the IDF action, while UN Secretary General Kofi Annan chimed in with his own public statement charging, "The Israelis have raised tensions in the region to levels we have not seen in many years."
For its part, the PFLP said it would avenge the killing, warning, "The blood of Abu Ali Mustafa is very precious... We will respond to this crime in a bigger way. Israel will pay a heavy price for its crime."
Apparently they acted quickly on their threats, as the PFLP took responsibility this evening for a terrorist ambush that killed an Israeli motorist between his home community of Itamar and Elon Moreh, east of Nablus. The victim was sitting in the back seat of a car with four other occupants when he was shot in the head.
Another Israeli motorist was shot and moderately wounded this evening by Palestinian gunmen operating inside Israel near Beit Shemesh.
Palestinian gunmen also resumed firing at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo this evening, after a two week lull induced by Israeli threats to invade neighboring Beit Jalla the next time shots were fired from there. Persistent Palestinian gunfire and a heavy IDF response has been heard echoing throughout western Jerusalem since dark, and a 62-year-old Gilo resident was moderately wounded by the sniper fire. Five apartments and a synagogue were also lightly damaged. Helicopter gunships can still be heard overhead as we go to press well after midnight, but only morning will tell if the Sharon government has carried through with its threat of a ground incursion.
The latest escalation in fighting has probably dealt a big setback to the tentative Arafat-Peres meeting in Berlin, which had already been put off until next week. By then Arafat will have returned from the Durban conference on racism, where he will seek to poison the world community further against Israel. And not to be forgotten on his travel agenda is an invitation to Damascus on September 12, where the repressive Assad regime is prepared to welcome him provided he renounce all pretense of negotiating peace with Israel.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.