Militant kills two guards in Israeli border town

Hamas, Islamic Jihad claim responsibility for rare attack in country

April 26, 2008|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian gunman killed two security guards yesterday at an Israeli industrial park that employs Palestinian workers and whose name means "buds of peace."

Two militant groups claimed joint responsibility for the attack along Israel's border with the West Bank. They said the gunman, who was slightly wounded, had reached the complex from the Palestinian territory.

Fatal attacks inside Israel have become rare. This one would be only the second since 2006 to originate from the West Bank, which has been largely separated from Israel in recent years by a ribbon of walls and fences. Israel credits the barrier and intensive patrols by its army for a sharp decline in suicide bombings and other attacks since the early part of this decade.

Yesterday's shooting was an embarrassment for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who had met Thursday with President Bush in Washington to urge pressure on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and turn over more security responsibility there to Palestinian forces.

Abbas' foreign minister, Riad Malki, said the shooting was meant to undermine the Palestinian demand for an Israeli withdrawal to improve the prospect of U.S.-backed peace talks.

The target of the attack, Nitzanei Shalom industrial park, is just on the Israeli side of the West Bank barrier, opposite the Palestinian city of Tulkarm. It employs 700 Palestinian workers in seven factories that produce cardboard boxes, plastic parts, pesticides, fertilizer and canned food.

An army spokeswoman said Israel considered the shooting a terrorist attack but had yet to determine who the gunman is or where he came from.

A joint statement by the military wings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas said they sent the attacker and identified him only as a militant wanted by both Israel's and Abbas' security forces.

A spokesman for Islamic Jihad told the Associated Press in a phone call that the militant had crossed into Israel several days ago dressed as a woman.

Pretending to be a workman, the assailant approached the industrial park's outer gate at the start of the morning shift, opened fire at close range on two Israeli guards who were checking identity cards, the army said. The guards, men in their 50s, were pronounced dead at the scene.

The army quickly entered a southern neighborhood of Tulkarm, ordered everyone off the streets and conducted a house-to-house search for the gunman. Three people were detained but later released.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad oppose the U.S.-backed peace negotiations, but Hamas' political leadership Thursday proposed a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip. Israel has not given a formal response.

The statement by the two groups' military wings said yesterday's shooting was meant "to stress our rejection" of any truce agreement with Israel that is not later extended to the West Bank "and does not give us a right to respond to Zionist violations."

Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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