Sharon Clamps Down on Ramallah After Arrest of Terror Cell
New Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the IDF to tighten its blockade of Ramallah over the weekend, following the arrest of members of an active terrorist cell in the area and specific intelligence that other members of the cell are still at large.
In recent days, the IDF has cut off Ramallah from Jerusalem and prevented Palestinian vehicles from using roads leading to the city and surrounding Arab villages. The army also has dug deep trenches, blocked access roads with boulders, and set up additional roadblocks and deployed tanks in the area. Palestinians claim similar tactics have been implemented in and around Jericho and near Jenin.
The IDF closure tightened further on Sunday, in the wake of specific information regarding a terrorist attack to be carried out from Ramallah,. The information came from several Arabs who were arrested before they could take part in the attack, planned for Jerusalem. Israeli security sources say they believe a major terrorist attack was prevented by the closure.
In a desperate bid to break the closure, several Palestinians driving tractors tried to break through IDF earthen barricades near the villages of Surda and Bir Zeit on Monday. IDF soldiers fired rubber bullets to disperse the group. Palestinian sources are reporting that a 27-year-old was killed in the clashes. IDF sources denied using live ammunition, saying they used rubber bullets and tear gas in the skirmish.
The PA announced Sunday that it would turn to the UN Security Council and ask it to intervene in what the PA called the "siege that Israel has imposed on the villages in the Ramallah and Jerusalem areas." The PA is renewing its demands at the UN for a 2,000-man armed international force to be deployed in Palestinian areas.
Sharon responded Monday that the Palestinians are responsible for the tightening of the closure. "If they really wanted to make things easier for their citizens, they would simply deal with the network of terror, as they obligated themselves to do in all agreements they signed to date," he said.
At today's cabinet meeting, Sharon directed new Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to examine ways to tone down the closure in Palestinian areas where there is no terrorist activity. Ben-Eliezer said he does not understand why there is such an uproar over the closure on Ramallah, particularly since it does not represent a change in Israeli policy.
Late this afternoon, Ben-Eliezer reportedly called for an easing of the closures on the cities of Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Bethlehem and Hebron. IDF sources indicated that the strict closure on Ramallah would be eased as soon as the security situation permitted and according to assessments by military intelligence.
In other areas today, Palestinians hurled hand grenades and opened fire at IDF position near Rafiah in the southern Gaza Strip. There were numerous bombing and shooting incidents throughout the Strip over the weekend.
There was also lots of activity in Hebron on Saturday and Sunday. An Israeli citizen was shot in the leg Saturday by an Arab sniper, amidst heavy Palestinian shooting at the Jewish neighborhood. The next day, while Purim parades were cancelled in other parts of the country, Jewish residents of Hebron participated in the annual march to the Cave of the Patriarchs under a heavy police and IDF guard.
In isolated incidents in Jerusalem and Hebron on Sunday, police arrested several Jews suspected of assaulting Arabs and Israeli police during the Purim revelry. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert on Monday condemned attacks on the capital's Arab residents.
Israeli security forces have apprehended Hamas terrorist Muhammad Dirawi, who confessed to involvement in dozens of shooting and bombing incidents in the Netzarim area in recent months. Members of Dirawi's terror cell recorded their attacks with a video camera, "imitating" the Hizb'Allah, and aired the tapes on various Arab television stations. Dirawi said that all the Hamas marches and parades in recent months had been coordinated with the PA. Israeli security now believes that Hamas is growing stronger in the Gaza Strip and is a potential threat to supplant the PA there.
The IDF and GSS arrested another four Palestinian activists Sunday, as suspects in shooting incidents against Israelis. At least one, a Kalandia man, is considered a leading activist.
Meanwhile some 5,000 Palestinians illegally trying to enter Israel were detained in a massive sweep carried out Sunday along the old Green Line. Two hundred were detained for questioning and over one hundred were arrested and handed over to security officials for further investigation.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.