Israel Seals off Territories to Prevent Further Violence

Israel on Wednesday sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to prevent further brutal encounters between Israelis and Palestinians from the territories.

The move followed spiraling violence that began Sunday with the fatal stabbing of three Jews in Jerusalem and escalated Tuesday with the wounding of four Jews and four Arabs, two of whom later died.

Following the orders, Palestinians were forbidden to enter any part of Israel. Jewish residents of the territories were free to come and go as they pleased.

The duration of the blockade is uncertain.

The United States, which has recently opposed Israeli tactics used to quell violence, on Wednesday agreed with what it called the "temporary security measure" to prevent violence.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said, "We hope that the situation will rapidly calm down, so that the measures can be lifted and Israelis and Palestinians can go about their lives in peace and security as they both should."

Tutwiler also announced that President Bush had sent a letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir expressing condolences for the loss of Israeli lives Sunday.

In Israel, there was broad support for the sealing of the border, coming from the entire spectrum of Israeli politics.

Both the Peace Now movement and the hard-line Council of Jewish Settlements praised the defense minister for his decision. So did the dovish Shinui-Center Movement and the pro-annexation Tehiya party, but for different reasons.

The right made clear it sees the blockade as a first step toward the eventual displacement of Palestinians from the administered territories.

Spokespersons of the right wing reasoned that without their jobs in Israel, the Palestinians would be forced by economic necessity to relocate to somewhere else in the Middle East.

But on the left, the closure was hailed as a possible first step to Israel’s eventual disengagement from the territories. Shinui leader Amnon Rubinstein urged that the separation be made permanent.

A TEMPORARY MEASURE

But Likud officials said it would be temporary.

Sources said the blockade might be lifted only after the 40-day Islamic mourning period for the 21 Arabs fatally shot by Israeli police during the Oct. 8 riots on the Temple Mount.

The incident triggered a spiral of violence, which included Tuesday’s stabbings and beatings of Jews and retaliatory beatings of Arabs by Jews.

One of the stabbing victims Tuesday was a 19-year-old soldier, Limor Ben Shaul of Moshav Shavei Zion near Nahariya.

She and another soldier were waiting to hitch a ride at a road junction near Haifa when an Arab leaped from a car and slashed both of them.

Ben Shaul was treated for minor cuts on her back.

Her companion, whose name was withheld by police, was knifed in the chest. She underwent surgery at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, reportedly for a punctured lung. Her condition was reported to be serious but stable.

Their assailant was identified as Omar Sawane, about 40, from the West Bank village of Silat el-Harithiya, near Jenin. He was chased and caught by enraged Jews who beat him unconscious. He died later undergoing surgery at Rambam Hospital from a brain hemorrhage that was apparently the result of a blow to the head.

Police are searching for his accomplice, who escaped in a Subaru car.

In Ashkelon, a seaport city south of Tel Aviv, Itzhak Pitussi, 53, owner of a carpentry shop, and Nathan Chassid, 40, a shop employee, were assaulted by an Arab worker from the Gaza Strip recently hired by Pitussi.

The Arab beat them on the head with a 10-pound sledge hammer. Both underwent brain surgery at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

Their assailant was captured by border police while trying to make his way back to the Gaza Strip.

Four Arabs, members of the same family, driving back to the Gaza Strip from their jobs in Israel were fired on by men in a passing car believed to be Jews out to avenge Arab attacks.

The driver, Maher a-Sha’aher, 30, of Khirbet el-Adas in the Gaza Strip, was shot in the chest. He died later at Nasser Hospital in Gaza.

The three passengers were all wounded.

The army radio reported Tuesday night that an organization calling itself Be’adi (For Myself) telephoned to say it had taken revenge against Arabs for their attacks of recent days.

(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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