June 15, 2001
An Israeli army officer was killed by a Palestinian gunman today on the "Tunnel Road" at the southern entrance to Jerusalem, jeopardizing a fragile cease-fire that went into effect yesterday afternoon. Security sources believe the officer was deliberately targeted in a Palestinian hit. Police say the gunman approached the officerâ€™s yellow van, which was stopped at an area where Palestinian workers are picked up by Israeli employers for work in Israel. He shot the Israeli officer in the head and wounded his bodyguard. The bodyguard chased the gunman, and shot and killed him. According to an unconfirmed report by Palestinian officials, the gunman was a "collaborator" who unexpectedly turned on his Israeli handlers. The attack followed another roadside shooting last night near the community of Maâ€™ale Adumim east of Jerusalem, in which a Palestinian was killed in unclear circumstances. Israeli reporters received a message on their beepers in which a Jewish settler group called the "Shalhevet Gilad" brigades claimed responsibility for the attack. The group is named after two Israelis killed by Palestinian gunmen. However, the army now believes that Palestinians carried out the attack, believing it was an Israeli car.
The shootings were the most serious of many incidents that have shattered the cease-fire. The Israeli army says that in the Gaza Strip, at least one mortar shell was fired at a Jewish community, Palestinian gunmen fired on another settlement and an army outpost, and a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at another outpost. Nobody was hurt in any of the incidents. Despite the violence, the army has begun pulling back its forces as called for in the cease-fire plan. At the Netzarim junction, a major flashpoint in the Gaza Strip, Israeli tanks pulled back about 200 yards (meters). Palestinian youths responded by pelting military jeeps with stones. Soldiers threw stun grenades and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd; no injuries were reported.
There was mixed reaction to the violence among Israeli officials. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said it would take time for the Palestinians to restore calm on the ground, and Israel is adopting a wait and see attitude. But Dore Gold, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, expressed disgust. "This doesn't look like a cease-fire," he said. "It looks much more like a shooting gallery." For their part, the Palestinians are speaking in moderate terms for a change. Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinian Preventive Security chief in Judea and Samaria said Yasser Arafat has given orders to abide by the cease-fire. "This is definitely a positive step in the right direction and this has to encourage us all," Rajoub said, speaking in Hebrew on Israel's Army Radio. "We agree to stop the fire on every Israeli citizen, it doesn't matter who he is and it doesn't matter where he is." Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat concurred. "We need to save human lives whether it's Israeli or Palestinian," Erekat told Israel Radio. "It could be a turning point and we can make it be a turning point. Let's concentrate our mutual efforts."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad today in Damascus, as he continues a tour of Arab capitals aimed at stopping nearly nine months of Mideast violence. Annan received a cool reception in Syria, which backs the Palestinian uprising and has criticized US and other mediation efforts for a truce. In an editorial today, the ruling Baath Party newspaper said the current US efforts aimed at "providing security for Israel, nothing more, nothing less." The paper said itâ€™s impossible for Israel to have security without "a true peace in the region in which everyone regains his rights." Annan, who has already been to Egypt, will travel to Jordan today and then to Lebanon. Heâ€™s due in Israel and the and the Palestinian territories over the weekend.