Israeli soldier is killed hours after militant dies in bomb explosion

Faltering cease-fire collapses as both sides brace for more violence

January 15, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - A Palestinian militant was killed yesterday in an explosion that Palestinians blamed on Israel, and an Israeli soldier was fatally shot hours later, ending a faltering cease-fire.

All signs pointed to a return to the violence that had declined in recent weeks. Palestinian gunmen opened fire in several locations last night, and Israeli officials vowed to "step up" their military response.

The militant wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's political faction, Fatah, distributed a leaflet saying, "The so-called cease-fire is a joke and is canceled, canceled, canceled. Revenge is coming."

The leaflet was a reaction to the death yesterday of Raed Karmi, 28, a militant Fatah leader in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. He was killed near his home when a bomb placed by the wall of a cemetery exploded as he walked by.

Israeli security sources said intelligence agencies were behind the death, but army officials declined to comment. The security sources said that Karmi, who had boasted he would never be killed, was responsible for the shooting deaths of nine Israelis.

The army had tried to kill him once before, on Sept. 6, in a helicopter attack on a jeep. Two other activists were killed, but Karmi escaped. That same day, Israeli officials said members of Karmi's group shot and killed a soldier.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information, said the apparent assassination of Karmi has "invited a suicide attack" on Israel and undermined Arafat's efforts to arrest militants and dismantle their organizations.

Shootings broke out across the West Bank within hours of Karmi's death, including one west of Nablus in which at least two Israeli soldiers were hit as they drove by a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. One soldier later died.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said that Palestinians had said that Karmi had been jailed. Karmi was on Israel's most-wanted list, and apparently had been arrested at the request of a U.S. peace envoy.

Gissin would not say if Israel was behind Karmi's death, but said security officials "assumed he was in prison. When we heard he had died, we thought it was because there had been a brawl in prison."

The spokesman suggested that Karmi was building a bomb that accidentally exploded. "Apparently, he got out and was up to his old tricks," Gissin said, reiterating complaints that the Palestinian police do not truly arrest people.

The last acknowledged Israeli assassination attempt was on Dec. 10 in Hebron.

Israeli officials sent reporters a two-page dossier on Karmi listing several attacks in the past 15 months that he is accused of carrying out. Among them is the abducting and killing of two Tel Aviv restaurant owners who were shot in January of last year when they ventured into Tulkarm. Palestinian officials said that Karmi had been jailed, but was released on a furlough to visit his wife and daughter. They said he was on his way back to jail when he was killed.

Once again, both sides blamed the other for escalating tensions just as it seemed they were close to moving forward toward peace negotiations. U.S. envoy Anthony C. Zinni was preparing to return to the region at the end of the week.

The Palestinians say Israel's capture of a boatload of arms two weeks ago in the Red Sea was an act of piracy and aggression. Israel said last week's ambush and killing of four soldiers near Egypt proved the cease-fire was an illusion.

"There was never a real cease-fire," Gissin said. "It was a temporary lull in the shooting. That's what Arafat wanted to get the pressure off of him. That's what he got."

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