Palestinian gunmen shot dead an Israeli motorist near Ramallah on Monday in what security sources believe may have been the latest attack traceable to Force 17, an elite commando unit that guards PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
Fifty-five year old Arieh Hershkovitz, a father of four and grandfather of four from the settlement of Ofra in Samaria, died in a hail of bullets fired from a passing vehicle as he drove on the highway between the Rama junction and Adam late Monday afternoon. A passenger in the vehicle escaped without injury.
Hershkovitz was buried yesterday, and today Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak canceled plans to make his first-ever visit to Ofra to pay a condolence call on his family. The Hershkovitz family said they would welcome Barak into their home so long as no members of the press were in attendance. But the visit was scratched after community leaders made clear Barak was not welcome and would be "escorted" from the area if he made an appearance.
Meanwhile, after a brief lull linked to the Taba talks, violence flared in the Gaza Strip on Monday, with around 20 shooting incidents by late that night. Palestinian sources claimed that 21-year-old Mohammed Abu Mussa was killed near Khan Yunis during an exchange of fire with soldiers. An IDF spokesman said soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian who had loaded his gun and aimed at them.
Shortly after midnight on Monday, soldiers foiled a terror attack when they shot at a donkey cart left unattended near their post at the Netzarim junction. The gunfire detonated a large amount of explosives that had been packed in the cart, killing the donkey.
For the first time, Palestinians fired a mortar shell at a Gaza settlement, landing in a house in Netzarim on Tuesday night. No one was hurt in the explosion, but Netzarim residents were ordered into security rooms and shelters. Soldiers searched the area for the perpetrators, and army sappers and security officials arrived at the house to examine the damage and the remains of the shell. Security officials described the incident as a serious escalation.
Also on Tuesday, a three-month-old Israeli baby girl was lightly wounded by stones thrown at her parents' car near the village of Marda east of Ariel.
The IDF is currently investigating Palestinian reports that a Palestinian youth, 15, was seriously wounded when he was shot by soldiers near the Karni crossing Tuesday afternoon.
Gun battles, roadside shooting attacks and bombings continued throughout YESHA at mid-week. There were reports on Wednesday that a 50-year-old Palestinian man was shot in the chest and killed by IDF forces at Netzarim Junction - a site of numerous clashes since mid-September. In addition, a bomb exploded in a Jewish enclave in Hebron today, while an IAF helicopter fired at suspected infiltrators near Har Dov, on the Lebanese border.
The IDF is predicting a serious escalation of violence in the territories in the near future. Though no one says so explicitly, "the near future" apparently means after the election for prime minister, which Likud chairman Ariel Sharon is expected to win handily.
Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz, speaking to soldiers near Bethlehem yesterday, said he expects some escalation in the near future. "It has already happened in Gaza, and the escalation in the Strip will spread to Judea and Samaria. There are now no diplomatic negotiations, so the Palestinians have no incentives to foil terrorist attacks. In effect, there is no Palestinian [terror] prevention - period. This is a recipe for escalation, though it could take two or three weeks."
Mofaz has ordered IDF commanders to prepare for more frequent terrorist attacks and a greater involvement of Palestinian police in the fighting. Should the conflict worsen, Mofaz predicts there will be Palestinian attempts to "overrun" settlements.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.