JERUSALEM (Mar. 21)
A wave of violence that has rocked this country in recent weeks continued to take its toll this past weekend with the killings of two Israeli soldiers and the deaths of at least two Arabs in separate clashes.
In an effort to regain control over the security situation, the government decided Sunday to recruit roughly 2,000 new police officers for the currently 18,000-strong force and to step up efforts to capture Palestinian gunmen in the territories.
The decision was taken at the first weekly Cabinet meeting following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s return from Washington, where the main topic under discussion was security.
Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis gave vent to their anger over the mounting violence and the government’s failure to curb it by demonstrating Saturday night outside Rabin’s home. Several were arrested.
In the latest attacks, Sgt. Yossi Shabtai, 21, was killed Saturday morning in the Gaza Strip’s Jabalya refugee camp when his army patrol was ambushed by Palestinian gunmen.
Shabtai, from Ashdod, was killed as he tried to charge the Palestinians and return their fire. Security forces were searching for the escaped gunmen.
The Islamic fundamentalist Hamas group claimed responsibility for the Gaza attack.
Later the same day, Sgt. Avisar Gitai, 28, was killed and two others wounded in the West Bank when gunmen hiding behind rocks opened fire on their jeep on a road three miles west of the Jewish settlement of Ariel.
The three reservist soldiers were escorting a busload of children.
In clashes between soldiers and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip refugee camp of Khan Yunis, at least two Arabs — some reports said four — died in clashes Saturday and Sunday.
The army would confirm only that it was investigating the cause of the Arabs’ deaths.
The army also announced it had captured over the weekend four wanted gunmen and seized a large cache of weapons in the Dir-el-Balah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
The four were members of the Fatah Hawks, an armed gang affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mainstream faction.
The four had been wanted for multiple attacks against army targets and for the murder of Palestinians they accused of collaborating with the Israeli authorities.
On the political level, ministers of the left-wing Meretz party were working on a plan to develop thousands of public jobs for Palestinians in the administered territories, rather than in Israel proper.