JERUSALEM (Nov. 28)
In a situation that appeared to be rapidly heating up, the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas vowed revenge for the killing of two of its leaders last week by Israeli security forces.
And the mainstream Al Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization joined Hamas in calling for a strike to demonstrate Palestinian unity in face of the killings.
The solidarity between the two groups is an unusual one, in that the PLO has signed a self-rule accord with Israel and the pro-Iranian Hamas has condemned the accord.
Since that call for solidarity was made, one member of the Fatah Hawks, Ahmed Abu al-Reesh, 23, was shot and killed by Israeli troops in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.
Reesh reportedly was killed Sunday by an undercover Israeli unit as he stood with other members of the Hawks group, which does not concur with the PLO’s autonomy accord with Israel.
In a separate incident the same day, an Israeli soldier was slightly wounded by shots directed at an Israel Defense Force post in Gaza.
As the threats and unrest mounted, Israeli sources disclosed Sunday that a four-man Hamas cell had been captured earlier in November before it could carry out plans to kidnap and kill either an Israeli soldier or settler in Jerusalem.
Khaled Zayir, the senior leader of the Izz a-Din al-Kassam military faction of Hamas in the West Bank, was killed by Israeli security forces last Friday.
Zayir’s death came two days after Israeli soldiers killed Imad Akkel, another commander and founder of the al-Kassam unit.
INVOLVED IN ATTACKS ON SOLDIERS
Akkel’s killing, in the Gaza Strip, touched off the worst Palestinian violence in Gaza since the Sept. 13 signing of the self-rule accord by Israel and the PLO in Washington.
In street battles in Gaza that lasted until nightfall Nov. 25, Palestinians barricaded roads, burned tires and threw stones at Israeli soldiers.
Dozens of Palestinians were wounded by Israeli army gunfire during efforts to disperse the crowds of protesters.
Akkel of Hamas reportedly was at the top of Israel’s list of wanted terrorists. He had evaded capture for two years.
He was reported killed after being tracked down by Israeli undercover soldiers.
Akkel was believed responsible for attacks on 11 soldiers, a settler and four Palestinians, many of which he executed while dressed as a religious settler and driving a car with Israeli license plates.
Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, the IDF chief of staff, called the killing of the Hamas leader an important step in the fight against terrorism.
And Israeli Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the killing of a Hamas commander sends a message to the Palestinians that “Israel’s security forces will be responsible for the settlers’ security” even after the Palestinian police force is operating in the territories.
A Palestinian police force is scheduled to be in place by Dec. 13.
“We will continue to hit at terrorists who act against us wherever they are, at any time, and with our full force,” said Ben-Eliezer.
A WARNING FROM HAMAS
Hamas, in turn, sent a statement to the Reuter news agency saying that “the situation is becoming intolerable.”
The statement accused Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of exceeding “all limits” and warned of escalating attacks on Israelis.
“We shall speak to him in the language he understands so well: the buzzing of bullets, explosions and booby-trapped cars,” Hamas warned.
The statement also hinted of new methods of revenge that could not be disclosed but would be apparent at the “appropriate time.”
Izz a-Din al-Kassam fighters would “burn the ground under the feet of Israeli troops and Israeli people wherever they are” in the war to “defeat the occupation and uproot the Zionist entity from Palestine,” the statement warned.
Zayir of Hamas reportedly was shot by security forces in an olive grove after he was chased out of his hideout in eastern Jerusalem.
He was a suspect in the killing of several Israeli soldiers and settlers as well as of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israelis.
Zayir was also suspected of planning a suicide attack in downtown Jerusalem.
Fatah’s call for unity with Hamas follows on the heels of an upset it suffered Nov. 24 in elections at the politically active Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.
The election was only for the nine-member student council, but it was considered an important Palestinian referendum on the peace process, the first since the signing of the self-rule accord.
Fatah lost by 120 votes to an unusual alliance of three Arab rejectionist factions.