TEL AVIV (Aug. 3)
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and senior army officers warned Monday that there will be a security crackdown on Gaza Strip after an Israel Defense Force officer was killed in the city of Gaza by a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday.
The officer was identified as Ron Tal, 22, of Zahala near Tel Aviv. He was laid to rest Monday in the military section of the Kiryat Shaul cemetery on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. He had served for the past four months as head of the military police unit in Gaza. He was a lieutenant at the time of his murder and was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain.
Tal had been driving his car through the town and slowed down at an intersection to make a sharp left turn. A man who had apparently been standing unobtrusively near the intersection approached the slow-moving vehicle and fired several shots point blank through the window and fled. Troops searched the area and arrested dozens of Palestinians. Hours later, the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility for the attack.
Army sources said they did not think Tal had been a planned target for the attack, but rather a “random” victim. Israeli troops are frequently the targets of stones or gas bombs thrown by West Bank and Gaza Strip residents, but the shooting of soldiers is rare. The last fatal attacks in the Gaza Strip were in May when terrorists killed an Israeli taxi driver and an Arab policeman.
TOUGH SECURITY MEASURES
Rabin and senior army officer described Sunday’s attack as “a deviation from the norm” and stressed that security steps taken as a result would also be a “deviation from the norm.” Security sources emphasized that the attack had taken place in an area in the center of town where local residents, shopkeepers and passers-by must have seen it happening. But, the sources said bitterly, no one has volunteered any information.
The entire Gaza Strip was sealed off immediately after the attack and no entry or exit was allowed either by land or sea. Gaza fishermen were not allowed to put out to sea and scores of thousands of Gaza Strip Arabs who normally go to work in Israel were forced to stay home until further notice, a move unprecedented in recent years. An estimated 60,000 people travel from Gaza daily to work in Israel and some 50,000 Palestinians in the area depend on the local fishing industry for a living.
Serious dislocations were expected in Israel’s economy this week as a result.
RABIN EXPLAINS REASONS FOR EXCEPTIONAL MEASURES
In an Israel Radio interview Monday morning, Rabin explained why he thought the attack was an exception, and why exceptional measures were being taken in Gaza. “First of all, I would like to point out that this incident was an exception, a terrorist act directed against an Israeli target. The murderers set themselves up at the site and attacked the first Israeli military target that passed them,” Rabin said.
“The incident was not in the category of ‘disturbance.’ It was a terrorist act planned by an individual or squad. It demands a broad action, which this time included, first of all, a curfew in the immediate area with a view to making arrests and conducting investigations, in order to find the person who carried out the murder.
“I cannot imagine that store owners and people who were in the stores or near the site did not see the incident, and we will therefore also take steps regarding the area near the site of the murder. The third thing: to make the investigation easier, a curfew has been imposed on an area wider than the site of the murder, with the aim of also facilitating an investigation and examination without enabling individuals to leave.
“The fourth matter is preventing people from leaving the Gaza District either by land or sea, so that we can ensure that we will be able to find the additional persons whose names we’ll collect as a result of information that is uncovered.”
Rabin stressed that the measures taken were not a collective punishment.
“This is not punishment, but taking steps which, in addition to all the other steps, will allow us to reach the perpetrators of the murder. Of course, in addition, it is intended to make it clear to all residents of Gaza and the local leaders that we will not tolerate such murderous activity,” Rabin said.
OTHER REACTIONS TO THE MURDER
Former Gaza Mayor Rahsid A-Shawa told Israel Radio Monday that the situation in the Gaza Strip was “unstable” because of Israel’s occupation of the area and especially tense since Deputy Defense Minister Michael Dekel proposed last week that Arabs should be transferred from the administered territories to Jordan. A-Shawa stressed that he was against any form of terrorism, from any party.
Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, the head of the army’s southern command, said “We will take all necessary steps to prevent another incident like this and capture the murderer or murderers as soon as possible.” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel would continue its struggle against terrorism without compromise.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Binyamin Netanyahu, told a group of Likud activists, before the murder of Tal took place, that the Gaza Strip should be given a status of self-rule, similar to the status Hong Kong has.
In a lecture in Ramat Gan, Netanyahu, who is known to be ideologically close to Likud, argued that there is no reason to be concerned over the demography of the West Bank since the population there is relatively scarce and there are many unpopulated areas where Jewish settlements can be established. But the Gaza Strip, with its relatively small space and a population of 600,000 presents a serious problem to Israel.