SHILOH, West Bank (Oct. 29)
The road winding through the Samarian hills near Nablus was deserted Tuesday as Jewish settlers prepared for two funerals, Arab villages remained under tight curfew and Israel Defense Force soldiers routinely uprooted olive trees on a hill overlooking the road.
The trees had given concealment to Arabs who opened fire Monday night on a three-bus convoy carrying settlers to a rally in Tel Aviv.
Killed in the ambush were Rachel Druk, 35, of Shiloh, a mother of seven, and Yitzhak Rofe, 40, from Jerusalem, who was driving the third bus.
Responsibility for the murderous attack was claimed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of several radical Arab groups pledged to violence in the hope of sabotaging this week’s Middle East peace conference in Madrid.
The bus was hit at a bend in the road between the Arab hamlets of Kabalan and Yatma.
The gunmen, lying prone among the olive trees, allowed the first two buses to pass and fired at the third. Apparently fearing armed guards, they fled after their first volley.
Had they continued to shoot at the unprotected bus, the casualties could have been far worse.
Contrary to usual practice, the settlers were unarmed. Their weapons had been submitted the same day for routine inspection. But the use of firearms by Palestinian nationalists is an ominous escalation of the intifada, where until recently the weapons were stones and gasoline bombs.
The IDF anticipated that development as the peace conference date approached, But the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, said Tuesday that he saw no reason yet for the army to change its tactics in the administered territories.
Meanwhile, soldiers have been posted on the hill where the attackers had waited for the buses. About 20 women from nearby settlements rigged tents nearby, hoping the government would authorize a new settlement on the site.
They are convinced that pouring more Jewish settlers into the territories will solve their problems, not the peace conference in Spain.
In New York, meanwhile, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned Monday’s “dastardly and cowardly act of terror.” which it said underscores Israel’s security concerns going into the peace conference.
“It is our fervent hope that the peace talks will put an end to these wanton killings,” the conference said in a statement. “We await the denunciation of this vicious attack by all the delegates in Madrid.”
Shoshana Cardin, the conference chairman, planned to arrive in Madrid on Wednesday as part of an international delegation of Jewish leaders that was to include representatives of the Jewish communities in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.