ISRAEL NABS RAMALLAH TERRORISTS, EASES CLOSURE
Israeli security forces disclosed on Thursday they have captured three more members of the Ramallah-based terror cell organized by PLO chief Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17, which was responsible for a string of attacks that killed eight Israelis and was planning a massive car-bombing in Jerusalem.
Their arrest in the past few days was the main reason why Israel's security cabinet decided Wednesday night to partially lift a tight closure around Ramallah, originally imposed last week due to "hot warnings" the terror cell was trying to perpetrate large-scale terrorist bombings inside Israel. The IDF claimed the blockade on Ramallah averted a series of planned terror attacks.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was under growing international pressure this week to "lift the siege" on Ramallah, which the Palestinians were exploiting for propaganda purposes. But it was only after the three at-large members of the terrorist gang were arrested and interrogated that Sharon convened his security and approved an easing of the security measures around the city.
Sharon attacked the Palestinian leadership at the meeting, saying, "elements in the Palestinian Authority and the forces it controls are deeply involved in terror, violence and incitement. The PA has no desire to end the violence, honor the agreements it has signed, or apply the principle of resolving differences peacefully."
Sharon distinguished between the PA and the Palestinian population, saying he wanted to ease the hardships on the latter. The cabinet approved Sharon's list of proposals to allow raw materials to enter PA-areas; permit fishing off the Gaza coast; prepare for the resumption of imports and exports by the PA; and permit freer movement within Judea/Samaria and Gaza, "subject to security considerations." For now, the ban on Palestinian workers entering Israel remains in force.
When several members of the active Ramallah terror cell were arrested and questioned in recent weeks, they provided Israeli security with evidence that other cell members were intent on staging dramatic attacks in Jerusalem. When the three latest members were taken into custody and interrogated last Saturday night, they revealed their orders were to carry out a large bombing attack the very next morning in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya'acov and to plant other bombs at gas stations and clubs elsewhere in the capital. On Sunday, Jews were festively celebrating the biblical holiday of Purim throughout Jerusalem.
"The arrest of the cell members foiled the attack," an Israeli security source said yesterday. IDF soldiers and border policemen also dismantled two bombs last night in Arab villages north of Ramallah based on information provided by the three detainees.
The three were identified as Fatah "Tanzim" militiamen, all from the Kalandia refugee camp just north of Jerusalem. The suspects confessed they were coordinating their activities with members of Force 17, Arafat's elite presidential guard which, according to some past reports, has received CIA training. Israeli security sources are convinced the central figure in the ring is Mahmoud Damra, the head of Force 17 in Ramallah.
The three were part of a larger network in Ramallah made up of a "cocktail" of 25 activists from Fatah, Force 17, Hamas and other armed factions. The cell was trained, equipped and directed by Force 17 and has killed 8 Israelis and wounded 20 others in more than two dozen shooting attacks over the past five months.
Its fatal attacks include the ambush on Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane and his wife Talia on December 31 near Ofra; the killing of security guard Esh-Kodesh Gilmore at the National Insurance Institute in eastern Jerusalem on October 30; another shooting near Ofra on November 13, in which two IDF soldiers and school teacher and mother Sarah Leisha were killed; the killing of a civilian man employed by the IDF near the Tapuah Junction on November 24; and the shooting of a civilian man on the Jerusalem-Modi'in Highway on December 20.
The three captured terrorists told interrogators their commanders enjoy the protection of senior PA security officials in Ramallah, via Force 17. Israeli security is also investigating the cell's links with Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti and others under Arafat.
Israeli authorities are collecting evidence directly linking Arafat to terrorist actions. An arrested PA security officer recently told Israeli interrogators about a meeting of militia leaders three months ago in Tulkarm. When one participant complained that local Palestinians were suffering as a result of the activities of a terror cell run by Dr. Thabet Thabet, he refused to order a halt to the shooting without a specific directive from Arafat. The order never came, and Thabet was killed soon after by Israeli forces. Israel TV's MABAT evening news program confirmed on Thursday that Israel believes Thabet passed on orders to shoot from Arafat himself.
Meanwhile, MA'ARIV reported yesterday that CIA Director George Tenet also has information suggesting Arafat is personally responsible for the latest surge of Palestinian violence, and this is why the US is refusing to be involved in further security coordination with the Palestinians.
In other incidents in recent days, as soon as the Ramallah closure was eased and traffic began to flow on Thursday, three Palestinian terrorists shot a hail of bullets towards two Israeli cars traveling near Ma'ale Levona. Later in the afternoon, an Israeli was wounded by glass shards when his car was shot at by Palestinians near Shavei Shomron. And last night an Israeli woman travelling on an Egged bus between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem was lightly wounded from stones thrown at the vehicle.
In Gaza on Thursday, IDF soldiers defused two anti-tank mines placed by Palestinians overnight in Morag. Shortly afterward, Palestinians fired two anti-tank grenades at army positions in the same area. In the afternoon Palestinians threw a grenade and fired automatic weapons at an army post on the Egyptian border near Rafah. Last night there were exchanges of gunfire between Palestinians and soldiers manning posts near the Gush Katif community of Tel Katifa.
There were several incidents in dispute. In Hebron five Palestinian children were lightly wounded from a stun grenade thrown by IDF soldiers to disperse them from throwing stones from an elementary schoolyard towards an Israeli car. Palestinians said the children were innocent and were taken to a local hospital for treatment for burns. The IDF, however, said the children suffered only from shock. In a statement, the IDF said it "sees the utmost importance in keeping children out of the cycle of conflict."
Palestinian sources also reported two dead, a 19-year-old man they claim was shot by IDF soldiers near Karni in Gaza, and a 50-year-old woman from Jenin who allegedly was prevented by soldiers from passing through a roadblock and died from a heart attack due to the delay. The IDF denied both claims.
Hospital officials in Gaza claimed the young man was shot in the back while he was walking on the street. But the IDF said he was spotted holding a metal object and running toward an IDF post on the Karni-Netzarim road. He jumped a fence surrounding the outpost and was last seen running back toward a crowd of Palestinians after troops fired warning shots at him.
The IDF said the tale of death near Jenin was also false. Apparently, when a Palestinian taxi arrived at a roadblock at the northern entrance to Jenin with an ill woman inside, the driver refused offers by Israeli soldiers to call a military ambulance. The driver left and returned minutes later because he found no alternate route to a hospital. Israeli soldiers and the driver carried the unconscious woman to the other side of the roadblock, where a van took her to a local hospital. In contrast, the woman's relatives claim the soldiers refused to allow her to pass and she died in the car.
On Friday, there were violent Arab riots in the afternoon at the Ayosh junction, above Ramallah, and near Jenin.
In a final note, the Gazan bus driver who plowed an Egged bus into a commuter stop and killed eight Israelis last month, told a court yesterday that he was not sorry for his deliberate act of mayhem. While relatives had suggested he was influenced by medication for depression and Arafat called it a "car accident," the terrorist said he "wanted revenge" for the recent deaths of Palestinians. He appeared in court with one leg amputated due to injuries suffered when his bus crashed after a long-distance chase. He is to stand trial for eight counts of murder, plus charges for injuring 21 others.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.