Palestinian Terror Escalates While Sharon Away
Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's departure for Washington, Palestinian terrorists ambushed a Jewish motorist early Monday morning, just hours after the first mortar attack inside Israel proper.
Baruch Cohen, 59, a resident of Efrat, was murdered by Palestinian gunmen around daybreak in a drive-by shooting on the Bethlehem bypass road, north of the Neveh Daniel community in Gush Etzion. Cohen, a father of six, lost control of his vehicle after being shot and crashed into an oncoming truck. The terrorists passed at least one Palestinian Authority police roadblock after leaving the scene of the shooting, IDF Brig.-Gen. Benny Ganz said Monday, charging the PA is aware of other Palestinians planning terror attacks, but does little to stop them.
The Israeli army re-imposed a security closure on Bethlehem in the wake of the drive-by attack. Local Gush Etzion council leaders noted Palestinian attacks were down in the area during a tight blockade last week, and advocated the reinstatement of a closure today. They urged, however, that Israel try to minimize the hardship on innocent residents by allowing the transfer of civilian food and medical supplies into Bethlehem.
Earlier on Sunday night, Palestinian terrorist for the first time fired three mortar shells from the Gaza Strip into Israel, targeting an IDF outpost near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, situated on the Israeli side of the Gaza border fence. A soldier suffered light shrapnel wounds in the attack. An IDF spokesman called the mortar attack a "grave escalation" in the six-month-old Palestinian war against Israel. Palestinians have repeatedly directed mortar fire on Jewish communities inside Gaza in recent months.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer blamed PLO chief Yasser Arafat for the ambush and mortar shelling. "My accusing finger is pointed at one and only one man: Yasser Arafat," Ben-Eliezer said. "The more I look into the matter [the clearer it becomes that] there is only one person who is not giving unequivocal orders and directions to lessen the violence, to halt the shooting, to halt this cycle of bloody violence."
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who is acting prime minister in Sharon's absence, said the PA had information about the attack and the mortar shelling. "This is something that cannot be done without the Palestinian governing body knowing about it," Peres said.
The incidents follow Sharon's acknowledgement of the renewal of talks aimed at resuming security cooperation with the PA. Israeli security chief Avi Dichter met with Palestinian General Intelligence Service head Amin al-Hindi at the Erez checkpoint on Saturday night for security discussions, while Hebron IDF commander Col. Noam Tivon met with his Palestinian counterpart Sunday night to discuss renewing coordination in their area.
Two Palestinians were killed over the weekend by IDF gunfire. In an incident near the Karni checkpoint on Friday, a young man was killed by soldiers firing at rock-throwers. In Rafah, another young Palestinian was killed trying to cross the border from Egypt into PA territory.
The weekend was accompanied by heavy shooting at Israeli civilian and army targets in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians threw a firebomb at the southern Gaza coordinating office. Two bombs were discovered in the Ramallah area on Friday, while north of Hebron, the army neutralized two more explosive devices Saturday night, after another one exploded along the same road. The IDF lifted closures around several towns in Judea/Samaria, but kept the village of Halhul, near Hebron, due to the discovery of the cell phone-operated bomb along the main road to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Palestinians in Khan Yunis fired an anti-tank missile at the Neve Dekalim industrial site. The rocket, which hit an empty area, was fired just two hours after Dichter's meeting with Al-Hindi. The shell that tore through a bulletproof school bus last November, killing two adults and wounding several children, was apparently of the same type.
On Sunday, Palestinian gunmen ambushed two Israeli civilian buses, the Israeli army said. In other violence, shots were fired at an industrial area in Samaria, and at IDF positions in the Gaza Strip. IDF forces arrested several Arabs suspected of taking part in terrorist activities against Israelis. According to security sources, four of them were armed and on their way to perpetrating another attack when they were captured.
Meanwhile, the IDF denied Palestinian reports that soldiers had shot and wounded two Palestinian boys during clashes with soldiers on the Karni-Netzarim road in Gaza on Sunday. Palestinians claim the boys were shot by soldiers using live ammunition. An IDF spokesman said an initial investigation by the area commander showed that a soldier had fired one shot in the air to disperse demonstrators.
The IDF is engaged in a ten-million shekel campaign to rebuild portions of the security fence separating Gaza from the rest of Israel. Some 12 kilometers of fencing have been destroyed over the past six months. The work is being done under heavy guard.
Hamas held a mass demonstration in Hebron on Monday afternoon, directed at Israel and the US. Some 2000 Arabs called for continuing the intifada, and burned pictures of Sharon and US President George W. Bush. They also burned a model of an Israeli bus, ARMY RADIO reported.
And in what was billed as a "peaceful" protest near Ramallah today, Palestinian media darling Hanan Ashwari was lightly injured when IDF troops used shock grenades to break up an unruly demonstration along a main road into Jerusalem.
At mid-day on Monday, the body of a 54-year-old Israeli man, Yitzhak Kvartatz, was found along the Lebanese border near Kibbutz Manara. Indications of violence were found on the body. Kvartatz, head of kibbutz security, had disappeared over the weekend. Dozens of weapons were also discovered missing from the kibbutz armory. Israeli authorities suspect criminal motives were behind the incident, although terrorism has not been ruled out.
Palestinians report that 10-year-old Muhammad Ismail Nasser, whose lifeless body was found in a forest near Jerusalem's Neve Ya'akov over the weekend, was murdered by "Jewish settlers." Israeli police, however, maintain that the family has a long-standing feud with another Arab family, and that members of the dead boy's family murdered a boy from the other family two years ago.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.