In separate attacks in Mideast, 2 Israelis, 10 Palestinians killed

Violence comes two days after Arafat cease-fire call

January 13, 2003|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - At least 10 Palestinians and two Israelis were killed yesterday in a surge of violence that included an attack by militants in a tiny village in Israel's north.

Last night, at least two Palestinians with automatic weapons entered the community of Gadish, near the northern tip of the West Bank, killing Eli Biton, 48, a father of four, and wounding four police officers. Forces later killed the militants.

Also last night, the Israeli army killed three Palestinians it said had come into Israel across the Egyptian border and had fatally shot an Israeli and wounded three soldiers. A few hours earlier, an Israeli helicopter fired three missiles at a car carrying two Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. But, Palestinian officials said, they missed and instead killed two teen-age bystanders.

The renewed violence came two days after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pressed for a cease-fire ahead of Israeli elections Jan. 28, hoping to influence voters who want to return to negotiations and to upset the more military-minded right wing led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We call on all our people to behave with self-restraint so as to protect the Palestinian national interest," Arafat said Friday. Arafat said Sharon would escalate attacks to provoke violence and divert attention from a growing campaign-finance scandal that is eroding his support in the polls.

Sharon dismissed Arafat's statements at his weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday, saying the Palestinian leader believes that "before the elections, it is OK to commit murder" while "close to the election date, it's better not to. ... Here we clearly see Yasser Arafat's true face, which is so well-known to us."

The attack at Gadish - for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility - occurred about 7 p.m. The village of about 60 families is just across the West Bank line and about 2 miles from the Palestinian city of Jenin, which is occupied by Israel.

It is 600 yards from where a separation fence is being built between the West Bank and Israel, but the fence does not fully extend to protect the community. Residents upset at the slow pace of construction have been building a fence with the help of donations from abroad, but that also is unfinished.

Biton, a reserve police officer who also performed security duties in the village, was fatally shot in the first moments of the attack. Other police officers were wounded during several gunbattles. The militants ran into an orchard and hid between sheds and chicken coops, crawling and firing on Israeli forces. An armored jeep raced in to draw fire and ran over and killed one of the gunmen. The other was chased down and fatally shot a short time later.

About the same time, three gunmen entered Israel along an open desert border-crossing with Egypt, killed an Israeli and wounded several soldiers. Two of the attackers were killed during the initial encounter, and a third was tracked down and fatally shot a few hours later.

Such incursions are rare along the usually quiet border. Israeli officials said the gunmen were most likely Palestinians who had crossed from the fenced-in Gaza Strip into Egypt through the Rafah border and then crossed back into Israel to carry out an attack.

In the helicopter shooting, an Israeli Apache gunship fired missiles at a taxi carrying two members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas as they traveled near a hospital in the Khan Younis refugee camp. Palestinian officials said the Hamas men, Mohammed Abu Shali and Raed al-Bashsar, escaped, but two teen-age bystanders, Mohammed al-Kawara and Abed A-Najar, were killed.

Earlier yesterday, the Israeli army sent tanks and infantry units into Khan Younis to blow up nine metal factories that they said had been used to make mortars fired into Jewish settlements. One Palestinian was killed, and 14 were wounded during gunbattles.

The army also moved into Beit Hanoun, north of Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, and destroyed a house of a suspected militant. One Palestinian was fatally shot.

Another Palestinian, Hazem Fanoun, 35, was shot and killed yesterday morning on a road near Hebron in the southern West Bank. Israeli police said a security guard accompanying a fuel truck shot the man after the truck came under fire from a Palestinian.

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