Israeli military continues its pursuit of Palestinian militants

Two linked to Hamas among six people killed in West Bank fighting

November 01, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army continued to hunt down suspected Palestinian militants yesterday as both sides inched closer to resuming peace talks to end 13 months of fighting. Six people were killed, including at least one by assassination.

Ignoring repeated pleas by the United States to pull its troops out of four Palestinian cities, the army instead tightened its grip and rushed into a small West Bank village south of Jenin. Soldiers captured several Islamic Jihad activists, including one who Israel said was planning a suicide attack.

Later, a missile fired from an Apache helicopter hit a barn in Hebron, killing a Hamas activist who had escaped repeatedly from Palestinian prisons and, according to the army, "was on the verge of perpetrating a terrorist attack on Israel."

Another suspected Hamas member was killed in Tulkarm when his car apparently was hit by a shell fired from an Israeli tank. The army refused to comment on that incident.

The juxtaposition of peace talks and more violence has been the norm here for months. A senior government official who briefed reporters yesterday was pessimistic that new formulas proposed to stop the gunfire would work.

Palestinian officials maintain that assassinations and incursions into their autonomous cities escalate tensions and drive an unending circle of revenge. Israeli officials vow to continue the policy of targeted killings until the Palestinians start arresting suspected terrorists.

"We don't think it's a lost situation," Foreign Minster Shimon Peres said yesterday, adding that troops will leave Palestinian cities "if the Palestinian Authority will do as they promised" - dismantle radical groups.

Abbas Zaki, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing Hebron, said jailing militants is next to impossible as long as Israel continues to occupy parts of the West Bank. "The killing is a tragedy," he said. "Assassinating our people will only cause the factions to inflame the situation."

As Israel's military continued to press the Palestinians with its overpowering firepower, Israeli politicians were busy with a flurry of diplomatic activity.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected here today and will at the very least press both sides to engage in negotiations.

Tomorrow, Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are going to be at an economic conference in Spain. The two might meet but apparently won't engage in negotiations. "I think if Arafat wanted the salt, Peres would pass it to him," a government official said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told parliament yesterday that he will personally lead any negotiations with Arafat, saying it is better for an old warrior to run the talks than for politicians.

Last night, Peres was to meet with Sharon to discuss the foreign minister's new initiative, which according to local press reports, calls for dismantling all settlements in the Gaza Strip and the formation of a Palestinian state.

Sharon also has called a Palestinian state inevitable but has opposed getting rid of the Gaza Strip settlement blocs as part of a deal.

On Oct. 17, the day that a Palestinian gunman assassinated Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi, Sharon was on the verge of announcing his criteria for a Palestinian state and siding with Peres over right-wing members of his coalition government. Instead, the killing led to a sweeping military action in which troops entered six Palestinian cities and put any peace plan on indefinite hold.

Troops have left Bethlehem and Beit Jala and never went into other areas that were devoid of violence, such as Hebron and Jericho. But they remain entrenched in Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm and Ramallah.

"If the Palestinians take the necessary steps, we will be out shortly," Peres said.

But Israeli officials say the threat of terror attacks is high, with particular attention being paid to northern Israel, where police believe a suicide bomber is hiding out and waiting to attack.

In separate incidents, soldiers shot dead two Palestinian security men near Nablus and another two in Qalqilya. In each case, Israel said its troops were pursuing gunmen.

Earlier in the day, soldiers and tanks raided the town of Arrabe, south of Jenin, and arrested an Islamic Jihad activist on Israel's most-wanted list, along with several others.

Then, in the southern West Bank town of Hebron, Hamas member Jamil Munir Jadallah was killed as he hid in his aunt's barn, apparently trying to avoid an Israeli strike. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Palestinian Authority several years ago for killing two Israelis, but escaped four times.

Jadallah was among the top people on Israel's most-wanted list turned over to the Palestinians several weeks ago.

The army linked Jadallah to the Dolphinarium suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, an attack on the Sharon Mall in Netanya, the suicide attack on the Sbarro's restaurant in Jerusalem and another attack at the Nahariya train station.

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