Israeli raid kills 4, including boy

Attack in West Bank targets suspected members of Hamas

December 02, 2003|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Four people, including a 9-year-old boy, were reported killed when Israeli troops raided the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday, prompting angry denunciations from Palestinian officials on a day when backers of an unofficial peace treaty were gathering in Geneva for a celebrity-laden signing ceremony.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat labeled the daylong military operation, during which Israeli commandos rounded up more than 30 suspected militants, a "provocative action."

Others warned that it might undermine planned efforts this week to forge a cease-fire among Palestinian militant groups. Representatives of the factions were to have begun meeting in Cairo, Egypt, today, but those talks were postponed until Thursday. The reasons for the delay were not clear.

Israeli military officials defended the Ramallah raid, which targeted suspected members of the Hamas faction. Officials said armed militants in the city were responsible for suicide bombings inside Israel that killed 68 Israeli civilians and wounded more than 550 in recent years.

"The timing has only to do with ensuring [the safety of] Israeli citizens inside Israel," said a military spokesman. "When you have a ticking bomb, you have to dismantle it."

Defense officials said the raid uncovered three caches of ordnance, including a fully armed explosives belt like the kind used by suicide bombers. Among the weapons found were booby-trapped basketballs, Israeli media reports said.

Israeli commandos killed two suspected Hamas members who fired on troops from a multistory building, defense officials said. A third man was killed during an exchange of gunfire at another building, whose residents were ordered to evacuate after troops were shot at, the military said. The building was demolished by Israeli forces after the shootout.

The boy died in a Ramallah hospital after being struck by a bullet during a clash between Israeli forces and rock-throwing youths near a refugee camp at the entrance to the city, Palestinian emergency workers and doctors said. The standoff briefly shut down the main avenue into the city, which is just north of Jerusalem.

Arafat's compound in Ramallah was not targeted during the operation, Israeli officials said.

Palestinian officials questioned the timing of the operation, which also coincides with preparations for a long-anticipated meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia.

The Palestinian leader has sought to link such talks to assurances that they will produce results on matters such as the security barrier that Israel is erecting in and around the West Bank and the dismantling of outposts built as extensions of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Sharon has refused to agree to prior conditions.

The signing ceremony for the Geneva Accord, a symbolic blueprint for peace negotiated by Israeli opposition figures and Palestinian negotiators under Swiss auspices, drew delegations of Israeli and Palestinian officials, writers and artists, and Nobel laureates including former President Jimmy Carter.

Although the document has no official authority, supporters sought to turn the event into a global spectacle in hopes of overcoming a likely uphill climb for wide acceptance.

"There remains one basic choice for the Israelis," Carter said during the ceremony. "Do we want permanent peace with all our neighbors, or do we want to retain our settlements throughout the occupied territories? And it is of equal importance that the Palestinians renounce violence against Israeli citizens in exchange for the commitment to this Geneva initiative."

The accord would delineate two states, largely along the lines in place before the 1967 Middle East war, with Palestinians getting nearly all of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel the rest and Jerusalem shared between them.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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