JERUSALEM (May. 21)
A fierce gunfight in the West Bank last Thursday that left one Israeli soldier dead, and several others severely wounded, raised fears here that the Palestinian uprising has taken a more deadly turn with the use of firearms against the Israel Defense Force.
But Israeli civilian and military leaders pointed out over the weekend that the incident did not involve Palestinian villagers suddenly switching from rocks and bottles to rifles and grenades. Rather, the incident involved an organized gang of armed terrorists of a kind the IDF has been dealing with for years.
The gang’s targets, in fact, were not Israeli soldiers, but Palestinians alleged to be collaborating with Israel.
Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat seemed in agreement over the weekend that the Palestinians have not begun to resort to firearms in their uprising.
Peres, the vice premier and finance minister, who is acting defense minister while Yitzhak Rabin is abroad, said the terrorists used rifles and grenades, not because they planned to, but because they were cornered by the IDF after an automobile chase.
Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander of the central region, concurred. He said the clash, which took place near Beit Ulla, in the Hebron hills, was not a response to the IDF’s tougher measures of the past week.
SIX OTHERS WOUNDED
Arafat, speaking from Baghdad, said the PLO leadership has not abandoned its decision to refrain from using firearms in the uprising. He added, however, that there is a “limit to patience.”
Other PLO leaders praised the terrorists. They said that while the policy against using firearms in the uprising remained in force, Thursday’s battle was legitimate and “they acted in self-defense.”
Although the three terrorists involved in the incident were killed, the IDF paid a high price.
Sgt. Yitzhak Revah, 35, of Rishon le-Zion, died of wounds caused by a hand grenade. He was the seventh Israeli soldier killed since the uprising began more than 17 months ago.
Maj. David Elkad, a battalion commander, was seriously injured and five other soldiers were wounded in the clash.
The gang operated in the Hebron area for some time, harassing local. Arabs who collaborated with the Israeli authorities.
One of its targets, a resident of Nuba village, asked the IDF for help Thursday night, after his home came under a shower of automatic gunfire.
Military vehicles rushed to the scene and then chased a car that ignored orders to halt. When the car was cornered, its occupants fired M-16 rifles and threw grenades at the soldiers.
The IDF later demolished the family homes of the three dead Arabs in Idna and Nuba villages, as well as the homes of two other terrorists.
For most Israelis, it was too early to tell whether the gunfight was an exceptional incident or the start of a deadlier phase of the uprising.
Clearly, soldiers raiding Arab villages from now on will have to be alert for bullets, as well as stones and bottles. On the other hand, Palestinians in the territories do not come by firearms easily.
The weapons of choice are rocks and stones, which can inflict serious injuries that are sometimes fatal. They can be found everywhere, in various sizes and shapes, and in almost unlimited quantities.
LEAFLET CONTAINS DEATH THREAT
The latest directive issued by the underground leadership of the Palestinian uprising leaves no doubt that the killing of Israelis is a major goal.
Leaflet No. 40 urges that one Israeli soldier or civilian settler be killed for every Palestinian death at Israeli hands.
It suggests that such murders be carried out via ambush “from a position of self-defense, to make sure the enemy pays a heavy price for its crimes.”
The worsening situation in the territories occupied much of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, complained to the ministers that the army has to deploy large forces to protect Jewish settlers in the Hebron area, at the expense of doing its job of training soldiers and dealing with real security problems.
Avner Shaki, a minister of the National Religious Party who is closely allied with the settlers, urged that they be allowed to organize an armed civilian militia.
Transport Minister Moshe Katsav of Likud repeated his proposal that the West Bank and Gaza Strip be sealed off from Israel for three months as a form of economic punishment for the Palestinians.
He had support from some Laborites in the Knesset, but left-wing lawmakers called the idea “racist.”
Meanwhile, the violence in the territories continued unabated.
Five Palestinians were killed Friday, including a 50-year-old woman, in a clash with the IDF in the Shabura neighborhood of Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. Thirteen Arabs were seriously wounded.