Israel closes borders after Hamas vows revenge Riots hit West Bank, Gaza after 2 Arab militants are killed in Israeli raid

September 12, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TARQUMIYA, WEST BANK -- Israel closed its borders to Palestinians yesterday after a militant Islamic group vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its members who were killed in an Israeli raid on a farmhouse in the West Bank.

The shooting deaths of brothers Adel and Imad Awadallah by Israeli soldiers sparked sporadic rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Israel stepped up security after threats by the militant Islamic group Hamas.

"All means will be used in order to protect our people, to defend ourselves against the Israeli aggression," Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar said in the Gaza Strip.

The call for revenge came in response to a raid Thursday at an isolated farmhouse west of Hebron. The identity of the brothers was made public yesterday.

Gen. Yitzhak Eitan acknowledged that the Israel Defense Forces did not know the identity of the men until after they had been shot and killed, but he said his troops knew the occupants of the house had weapons.

Eitan, the Israeli commander in the West Bank, said the Awadallah brothers were suspects in terrorist attacks that left at least five Israelis dead and 51 wounded. He said weapons, ammunition and six wigs found at the farmhouse suggested the brothers were planning a "kidnapping or shooting."

He identified Adel Awadallah, 31, as "a master terrorist" and senior commander of Izzedine al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas that has carried out suicide bombings and terrorist attacks in Israel.

Awadallahs brother, Imad, 28, escaped recently from a Palestinian jail where he was being held in the murder of a leading Hamas terrorist.

The Israeli army opened the farmhouse to reporters yesterday and gave its account of the raid. But the army version is incomplete and inconsistent with physical evidence at the scene. The Israeli account has been challenged by the Awadallah family, area Palestinians and the brother of the farmhouse owner.

The farmhouse is on an isolated hilltop in an area of vineyards south of the Palestinian city of Hebron. A gated, high concrete wall surrounds the house, which has a large rooftop deck shaded by metal canopies. It is owned by a wealthy Hebron businessman, Akram Masawada, who was arrested by the Israelis.

Eitan gave this account of the raid:

Three days ago, Israeli troops were drawn to the farmhouse by shooting and an explosion. He said a man seen driving from the farmhouse was arrested. Eitan said the man owned the house but couldn't identify him by name.

Eitan said surveillance by army troops showed there were weapons in the house. On Thursday afternoon, Eitan said, Israeli troops stormed the one-story, two-room house. The two men inside were shot and killed as "they tried to reach their weapons," he said.

The general said the men carried identification of two individuals from Hebron. But the army learned later that the men were the Awadallah brothers.

The condition of the house yesterday suggested it had been searched. The main room was in disarray, with beds askew and a pile of mattresses in a corner. A hand-drawn banner displaying a fist and the Arabic name of the Hamas military wing was taped to a wall. Cartons of pears, grapes and apples were lying about. Shoes and clothes were strewn about. Toiletries were on a shelf.

There were few signs that anyone had died in the house. A small splatter of blood could be seen on the ceiling and bullet holes marred the base of one wall.

The army said it confiscated a cache of weapons from the house: an Uzi submachine gun with five magazines, a Russian-made AK-47, two pistols, six Israeli army grenades, three homemade grenades and packages of bullets.

The owner of the house, Akram Masawada, was being held in an Israeli jail in Jerusalem. His brother, Dr. Taysir Masawada, said the farm was used as a weekend home. He said his brother did not rent the place and questioned why the Awadallah brothers would have been there. He alleged that the Awadallah brothers had been killed elsewhere and their bodies placed at the house.

The area of the raid is under Israeli control, and Eitan said the raid took place without help from Palestinian security forces.

But several weeks ago, Imad Awadallah, one of the men killed, escaped from the Palestinian jail where he was being held as a suspect in the March 29 killing of a top Hamas military leader, Muhi al Din Sharif. Last week, Awadallah sent a letter to news agencies denying the Palestinian authority's claim that he killed Sharif.

The Awadallah family suggested that the Palestinian authority had kept the brothers under surveillance since Imad's escape. lTC The farmhouse raid "was in full coordination between the Palestinians and Israelis," a statement by the family said.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a senior Palestinian authority official, accused the Israelis of carrying out the raid to undermine the visit by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. Ross is meeting with Israelis and Palestinians in an attempt to get the stalled peace talks back on track.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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