Police Say Alfei Menashe Death Caused by Gas Leak, Not Firebomb

The police, investigating two recent Israeli fatalities widely attributed to terrorists, reported Monday that one was definitely an accident and the other not part of an organized attack.

The police found that Albert Jerassi, a 38-year-old resident of Alfei Menashe in the West Bank, was not the victim of a firebomb attack, but burned to death in his van on the night of Feb. 8, when gasoline leaking from the vehicle exploded.

The police also said the stabbing death Saturday afternoon of Israeli soldier Shlomi Cohen, just outside the Old City walls in Jerusalem, was a random act.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin was swift to blame the Palestine Liberation Organization “or one of the terrorist organizations linked to it” for the assault.

The 20-year-old victim, wearing civilian clothes, was on his way with a friend to pray at the Western Wall.

Rabin spoke out on Sunday, after police had five suspects in custody but were not sure they had the perpetrator.

The police inspector general, David Kraus, told the Knesset Interior Committee Tuesday that although five assailants were involved in the assault on Cohen, it was apparently not organized.

SETTLERS ARE SKEPTICAL

Both incidents underlined the confusion and dilemmas facing Israelis as they are confronted by the Palestinian uprising. They also indicated that utmost care must be taken in assessing events.

After Jerassi died, Jewish settlers in the West Bank were convinced he was a firebomb victim, the third from Alfei Menashe since 1987.

Their fury reached a high pitch when police officials noted that the usual evidence of a firebombing was missing from the scene and they would have to investigate all possibilities, including accident.

There was an angry confrontation after Jerassi’s funeral between settlers and Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander of the central sector.

The settlers accused the Israel Defense Force of ineptness and lack of zeal in protecting Jews. They threatened to take matters into their own hands.

After two weeks of forensic tests, the police announced that Jerassi’s van caught fire from a gasoline leak. They said it was obvious the gasoline found in the driver’s compartment did not get there from outside the vehicle.

But many West Bank settlers still refuse to accept the evidence.

Shlomo Katan, mayor of Alfei Menashe, called it just another guess, no better than previous guesses. He asked to meet with the police inspector to examine the evidence.

Whether or not they eventually accept the police conclusions, the settlers have definitely not ended their feud with the IDF. They still accuse the security forces of not doing their utmost to curb the Palestinian uprising.

The settlers’ attitude brought an angry rejoinder from Rabin Tuesday. He told them to weigh all the aspects of life in the territories and if they are not willing to draw the necessary conclusions, they have no business living there.

“There is no hocus-pokus to solve the problem,” Rabin told the Knesset. He said the army cannot end the uprising by “one-blow tactics.”

Meanwhile, Police Inspector General Kraus complained bitterly to the Knesset committee that his Jerusalem police lack the authority and means to maintain law and order in East Jerusalem.

He said the situation there is no different from the administered territories, but the police have no authority to act to break the frequent commercial strikes called by Palestinian militants, which invariably result in violence.

The situation is that “the PLO is in control of the streets of East Jerusalem,” he said.

But Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev is not backing up his law enforcement chief. He told the Knesset Tuesday that conditions in East Jerusalem are better than they appear to be.

He invited the public to visit the “many historic and religious sites” there, saying the place is “open and safe.”

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