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Tension Builds in the Middle East After Apparent Ambush

Friday, May 11, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

May 11, 2001
Five paramilitary Palestinian policemen were killed overnight in an apparent ambush by Israeli troops in the town of Betunia, near Palestinian-ruled Ramallah. The Israeli army said soldiers opened fire on a group they identified as "suspicious figures." A government spokesman said later that Palestinians at the station had fired first. But Palestinian spokesman Marwan Kanafani denies it. "This is an ambush where innocent soldiers who were guiding their posts were assassinated," Kanafani said. The Palestinians plan to protest to the UN security council over the incident. Thousands of Palestinians chanted for revenge as they marched in a memorial procession in Ramallah. A few hours earlier, Israeli helicopters and gunboats heavily rocketed Palestinian security compounds near Yasser Arafat's office and several other areas in the Gaza Strip. Israeli gunboats fired shells toward a Palestinian navy office in the Nusseirat refugee camp and helicopters fired rockets at Palestinian security installations in Khan Yunis, Deir el Balah and Jabalya. Three people were injured by shrapnel and eight armored vehicles destroyed. An army spokesman said the assault was in retaliation for "an escalation of violence and terror in recent days." Loud booms could be heard around Gaza City as the Israeli helicopters fired several missiles at security headquarters some 100 yards from Yasser Arafat’s office.

In other incidents today, the Israeli army demolished a Palestinian police station and several other buildings in the village of Shuwakeh in Samaria. The army said Palestinian police had used the station and buildings to fire at Israeli troops. Palestinian officials said the buildings were part of an agricultural college. Near the border between Egypt and Gaza, Israeli tanks fired machine guns to cover a bulldozer as it destroyed two buildings about 100 yards (meters) inside Palestinian-controlled territory. The Israeli military said soldiers defused bombs in the area and came under fire from Palestinians. No injuries were reported.

Tension is also rising on the northern border. Today, Islamic Hizbollah guerillas in Lebanon fired two anti-tank missiles toward an Israeli army outpost, triggering Israeli artillery fire. There were no injuries on the Israeli side, the army spokesman said. The missiles were aimed at the Har Dov outpost, and an army dining hall was damaged in the attack. The outpost is in the disputed Chebaa Farms area, which Lebanon claims as its territory despite UN verification of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon a year ago. Hizbollah has killed three Israeli soldiers and captured three others in the area since Israel withdrew. Today’s attack was the first since April 14, when Hizbollah killed an Israeli soldier in a rocket attack. Two days later, Israeli warplanes retaliated by bombing a Syrian military radar station deep inside Lebanon, killing three soldiers. It was the first Israeli attack on Syrian targets in Lebanon in four years. Israel has warned Syria to restrain Hizbollah, or it will strike at Syrian targets in Lebanon—something that could turn what is now a border dispute into a regional war.

The Palestinian Authority has released a leading member of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Rantisi was arrested for criticizing the Palestinian Authority, but said that he had not been questioned during his week in prison. He said Hamas and the Palestinian Authority now agree that armed struggle is the only way to deal with Israel. They "believe that the only way for the Palestinians is to fight to defend their people, to defend their land," Rantisi said. Commenting on Rantisi's remarks, Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan said, "We can't be partners with the Israelis as long as their aggression continues." Israel charged that it was another manifestation of Arafat’s "revolving door" policy—terrorists are briefly jailed and then released. Arafat is sending mixed signals of diplomacy and terror, said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The release of Rantisi "sends the message of the latter," he said.

Israel will formally reject a US-led inquiry's call for a freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The decision was taken at a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and senior cabinet ministers to discuss the 32-page report of an inquiry commission led by former US Senator George Mitchell. According to the report, "a cessation of Palestinian-Israeli violence will be particularly hard to sustain unless the government of Israel freezes all settlement construction activity." Israeli officials say that while Israel will not build new settlements, it will allow for "natural growth" and also allocate funds to protect the communities. In addition, the government rejected the report’s criticism of the army's use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators, saying soldiers are fighting "under difficult conditions." However, Israel backs the report's recommendations for ending violence and renewing peace talks. Israel and the Palestinians have until Tuesday to respond to the findings of the five-member committee established at an emergency Middle East summit last October in Egypt. The Palestinians, by contrast, have accepted the report as is, and conditioned any renewal of peace talks on a freeze in Israeli settlement activity.

THE FOLLOWING APPEARED IN the "israel today" update on Sunday, May 14:

Israeli helicopters fired rockets at a car carrying Palestinian intelligence agents and militiamen on Saturday, killing two of them outside police headquarters in the autonomous town of Jenin. Moutasem Sabaa, 26, a well-known gunman from Yasser Arafat`s Tanzim militia, was killed in the attack along with Ala`a Jaloudi, a Palestinian policeman who was standing nearby. The first rocket missed the car and three other Tanzim gunmen escaped without serious injury, including Abdel Karim Awais. Palestinian officials say they suspect Israel`s main target was Awais, 30, who leads a group of local gunmen and was planning mortar attacks on Jewish settlements in Samaria. Awais, like many Tanzim, also serves as a Palestinian intelligence officer. At least 17 people were admitted to a hospital and treated for shock and shrapnel injuries. Some 10,000 Palestinians attended the joint funeral of the two victims, chanting for revenge. Israel did not comment on the attack, but Palestinians described it as an Israeli "assassination," one of at least 20 since violence erupted over seven months ago. "This is state-sponsored terrorism," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Shaath. The Fatah movement, to which the Tanzim belong, distributed a leaflet in Jenin calling for retaliation. "This assassination will increase our resolve to respond and take revenge," the leaflet said. Fatah leaders from Jenin warned they had mortar shells and would be targeting Jewish settlements in the area. To date, mortar attacks have been launched only from the Gaza Strip. On Saturday, six mortar shells were fired at Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip, slightly injuring one Israeli. In a rally of some 1,000 supporters of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas in Palestinian-ruled Ramallah north of Jerusalem, demonstrators shot a fake mortar shell into a model of a Jewish settlement, which burst into flames.

Tensions are unlikely to ease ahead of May 15, the day Palestinians mark the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. They remember Israel`s birth as the "Nakba," or "Great Catastrophe." Last year, even before the current intifada, the Palestinians ignited gunbattles and riots to mark the "Nakba."

In some effort at diplomacy, Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas is expected to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Monday or Tuesday. "The purpose of the meeting is definitely to try to restart the peace process and get out of the situation we are in now," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the PLO representative in Washington. Abbas also hopes to win Yasser Arafat an invitation to the White House, something Israel opposes and describes as "a reward for terrorism." Bush has met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, but Arafat has yet to be invited. Analysts in Washington say the administration is trying to use an invitation as bait for Arafat to call off the uprising. Sharon has said that Arafat should not be invited to Washington before the "full cessation of hostilities." At a news conference on Friday, President George W. Bush described the cycle of killing as "abhorrent" and warned: "It`s going to be very difficult for us to be able to bring people to the peace table so long as there is violence."

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Tension Builds in the Middle East After Apparent Ambush