TEL AVIV (Nov. 14)
An Israel Defense Force reservist was killed Monday evening and another soldier critically wounded when their jeep was ambushed in the Gaza Strip.
IDF sources said they were the first military casualties from firearms since the intifada began in the Gaza Strip almost two years ago.
The victim, 43-year-old Yisrael Trachtenboim of Afula, was buried there Tuesday morning.
In retaliation for the attack, IDF troops demolished a building at the side of the road where the ambush was set up, near Gaza City. They also blew up a stone wall and established an Israeli outpost by flying the Israeli flag at the site.
The army placed an immediate curfew around the area, and the entire Gaza Strip was declared a closed military zone while troops searched for the perpetrators.
Despite the curfew, about 100 Palestinians, including men, women and children, danced in the streets of Gaza City and sang nationalist songs. Israeli soldiers dispersed them with tear gas and what some witnesses said was live ammunition.
The attack occurred on the eve of an announcement by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin that leaders of the Palestinian uprising had ordered the use of “hot weapons” on Nov. 15, the first anniversary of the declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
Until now, attacks on Israeli military vehicles have been carried out with stones or gasoline bombs.
Military sources saw a coincidence between the escalation to firearms and celebration of the proclamation of independence by the Palestine National Council in Algiers last year.
However, the PNC is a forum of the Palestine Liberation Organization headed by Yasir Arafat. Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group which seeks and Islamic state, claimed credit for the attack, in a telephone call to Israel Radio’s Arabic service.
Hamas is the chief rival of the secular PLO for leadership of the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The IDF reported only this week that 200 Hamas activists, including its top leadership, have been in custody since May.
Some observers say a contributing factor to Monday’s ambush may have been the success of Islamic fundamentalists in the Jordanian parliamentary elections last week, the first in 22 years.
Military sources said the attackers had waited until the jeep passed and opened fire from the rear with Kalachnikov assault rifles. Twenty shell casings were found at the site.
The IDF said travel regulations would be tightened in the Gaza Strip. Military vehicles have been ordered to travel in pairs.
The jeep that was hit Monday was returning to its base after escorting other vehicles.
Trachtenboim, on reserve duty, was married and the father of three children, including a daughter who is a soldier in the IDF.