TEL AVIV (May. 4)
Reinforcements of Israeli police and troops in full battle gear poured into the West Bank over the weekend in the aftermath of the terrorist ambush in Hebron Friday evening which left five Israeli youths dead — all of them yeshiva students — and 17 wounded, including six young women. (See separate story.)
The terrorists, who fired automatic weapons and hurled hand grenades in what was apparently a carefully planned attack, are believed by security authorities to be local people rather than infiltrators. A search of the ambush site yielded cigarette butts of a locally-mode brand and discarded pocks bearing the local excise tax stamp. The Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut claimed responsibility for the outrage.
Israel’s show of military force has several objectives: to seal off Hebron, which was placed under curfew, while a house-by-house search for the perpetrators goes on; to maintain order among the Arab population in Hebron and elsewhere on the West Bank where tension is running high; to prevent infuriated Jewish settlers, mainly Orthodox militants, from reprisal attacks on Arabs; and to prevent further terrorist attacks on Jews.
Israel’s first act in response to the killings was to deport three West Bank Arab leaders who are outspoken supporters of the PLO. They are Mayor Fahed Kawasme of Hebron, Mayor Mohammed Hassan Milhim of Halhoul and Sheikh Rajeb Buyud Tamimi, the Kadi (Moslem religious judge) of Hebron. Israeli authorities did not accuse them of direct involvement in the attack but maintained that their provocative anti-Israel statements created the atmosphere for it. The three were deported into south Lebanon last night. They were flown by helicopter to Beirut where they were welcomed by the PLO leadership. (See separate story.)
PART OF PLAN TO DISRUPT AUTONOMY TALKS
The assault on the Jews in Hebron, the worst incident of its kind on the West Bank since Israel’s occupation began in 1967, was believed by Israeli officials to be part of a PLO plan to disrupt the autonomy talks between Israel, Egypt and the U.S., currently underway in Herzliya.
The outrage was promptly condemned by Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil of Egypt, head of the Egyptian delegation who sent condolences to the families of the victims. “We do not accept violent action,” he said yesterday. He said the episode would have no bearing on the autonomy negotiations.
Justice Minister Shmuel Tamir, a member of the Israeli delegation, said the Hebron ambush was an attempt to torpedo the talks. “It was a mean massacre, one of the meanest we eyer knew,” he said. Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, expressed honor at the attack and denounced the cowardliness of the gunmen who fired at their victims from behind. “The attack was meant to shed blood. Every effort must be made to find the perpetrators,” he said, but warned Israelis not to resort to the punishment of those who are innocent.
ANGER AGAINST DEFENSE ESTABLISHMENT
An immediate repercussion of the tragedy was the demand by Orthodox militants and their ultranationalist supporters for the resignation or ouster of Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. Weizman and the defense establishment in general were held responsible to the extent that they allegedly failed to take tough enough measures against West Bank Arabs and were lax in protecting Jewish settlers. The center of this sentiment was Kiryat Arba, the Orthodox Jewish township adjacent to Hebron where most of the victims had lived or studied.
The residents of Kiryat Arba were enraged when the Military Government banned them from entering Hebron after the killings. Gen. Moshe Levi, commanding officer of the region, angrily left a meeting with Kiryat Arba leaders last night after they accused the army of inactivity in recent weeks, claiming that this was taken as a sign of weakness by the Arabs.
Demands that Weizman resign came from members of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya faction and from the La’am faction of Likud. Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, head of the Kiryat Arab yeshiva whose students were among the dead, warned Weizman not to attend the funerals. Should he attend, “I cannot be responsible for the consequences,” he said.
Weizman declared yesterday that “The defense establishment will take measures that will persuade the leaders and population of the administered territories that they will not achieve what they wish” by violence. “We are in the midst of a struggle for Eretz Israel. What happened in Hebron only strengthens our position as to the security issue of the autonomy talks as it will be Israel that will have to find the proper answers to the security problem,” Weizman said.
SECURITY IS UNDERSCORED
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir also underscored security. He said yesterday that the Hebron killings would not affect the autonomy negotiations but claimed: “What has happened makes even more important and vital the issue of security and indicates that our point of view is the right one — that security should remain entirely in Israeli hands. The success of the talks depends on the Egyptians understanding the importance of the security issue for us.”
Weizman recalled that the PLO has vowed to sabotage the Camp David agreements and the autonomy plan and apparently seeks to undermine the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He noted that the PLO and a part of the West Bank leadership were openly opposed to Camp David and the autonomy scheme. “Some of the steps which have been taken by them have been passive, such as strikes, and some violent,” Weizman said.
He observed that although he is personally against Jewish settlement in Hebron “There is a government decision. It is the duty of the defense establishment to defend the decisions of the government.”
Weizman was referring to a Cabinet decision last month to establish two Jewish religious schools in Hebron. He also noted that he has been under pressure for some time to deport Arab leaders like Kawasme who incite to violence. He said he opposed it because he believed, and still does, that “we have to find a modus vivid with the Arabs.”
He said he decided to deport Kawasme, Milhim and Tamimi now because the situation is “like an avalanche, or rather a blood-filled snow-ball. If it is not checked now, it might roll out of control.”
Gen. Danni Matt, chief military coordinator for the West Bank, said other measures taken in addition to the deportations were the levelling of two buildings in Hebron which the attackers had used and the expropriation of a number of other buildings in the area. The Jordan River bridges were closed today to travellers and the transportation of goods. He said the curfew will remain in force in Hebron until further notice.
DETAILS OF THE ATTACK
Senior military officers supplied details of the attack and the context in which it was carried out. The victims were among a group of 24 worshippers who had attended Friday evening services at the Machpela Cave in Hebron, site of the Patriarch’s Tomb, a shrine sacred to Jews and Moslems.
Many were residents of Kiryat Arba or of Bnei Brak, a religious township north of Tel Aviv. Among them were students at the Hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Arba where religious studies are combined with military training.
It had long been their habit, after Friday evening services, to celebrate the Kiddush in what was at one time the Hadassah clinic in Hebron where Orthodox women and children from Kiryat Arba took possession about a year ago in order to assert a Jewish “presence” in the town where no Jewish community has existed since the Arab uprising in 1929. Although they acted in defiance of Military Government orders, the squatters were protected by Israeli soldiers and supplied with food, water and other necessities.
The weekly visits by the young worshippers after prayers were apparently noted by the terrorists who planned the ambush. They concealed themselves with then weapons on the roofs of a line of one-storey shops opposite the clinic and waited for the victims. When the group passed beneath them, they opened fire with Karl Gustav submachine guns and Kalachnikov rifles. They threw at least six hand grenades and home-made bombs. The latter failed to explode and were picked up later by Israeli sappers for investigation.
The gunmen escaped, leaving the dead, wounded and other survivors in pools of blood and grenade splinters. Israeli authorities believe that many residents of Hebron knew in advance of the planned attack but none gave warning. It followed several weeks of mounting tension on the West Bank which has followed a set pattern.
Stone throwing by Arab youths at Israeli vehicles and settlers triggered reprisal attacks by Jewish militants who vandalized Arab property. That, in turn, touched off protest demonstrations and general strikes and disorder in a number of West Bank towns. Last Thursday, a 17-year-o’d Arab youth was fatally shot in a scuffle with Israeli officers in Anabta village in the Samaria district. Two other Arabs were wounded. The dead youth was identified as Najah Ahmod Ulaya.
According to Israeli accounts, he and two companions attacked the officers with stories and Ulaya, allegedly armed with a knife, tried to seize the sub-machine-gun of one officer when the fatal shot was fired. The Military Government is investigating whether the officer’s gun was fired accidentally or deliberately.