JERUSALEM (Dec. 27)
An Israel Defense Force officer shot to death last week by Palestinian extremists in the Gaza Strip is the highest-ranking soldier to be killed since the intifada began six years ago.
Lt. Col. Meir Mintz, coordinator of special units operating against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, was shot to death last Friday in an ambush in which three other soldiers were also wounded.
The Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was an act of revenge for the Nov. 24 killing by Israeli security forces of Imad Akkel, the group’s commander in the northern Gaza Strip.
Mintz, 35, had a 2-year-old child and reportedly had just learned that his wife was pregnant with a second child.
He was riding in a jeep when gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons. Two other soldiers riding with Mintz returned the fire after being slightly wounded.
Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, the IDF chief of staff, denied charges that the recent return of Hamas deportees from southern Lebanon had strengthened the organization’s hand.
He was referring to the final group of Islamic fundamentalists allowed to return to their homes in the administered territories on Dec. 15 after spending a year in exile in southern Lebanon. They had been expelled in December 1992 following a series of murderous attacks on Israelis.
The attack on Mintz came after the military wing of Hamas, Izz a-Din al-Kassam, issued a statement saying it would stop shooting settlers if Israeli soldiers stopped shooting Palestinians.
The statement was issued Dec. 23 in a leaflet that contained a host of other conditions for ceasing attacks on settlers.
The statement also called for Jewish settlers to leave Gaza within three months and for West Bank settlers to turn in their weapons and leave their homes within a year.
Hamas also reportedly demanded an end to the operations of Israeli undercover units in the territories and the release of all Palestinian prisoners Israel is holding.
Hamas called on Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to agree to the conditions on the evening news.
The day after Mintz’s murder, Hamas issued yet another leaflet charging that the Israeli government did not understand the significance of the Hamas offer.
In this latest leaflet, which was distributed Saturday, the fundamentalist organization also said it would suspend attacks for three days to give Israeli leaders more time to respond.
Hamas has also claimed responsibility for the murder in Ashdod of a 60-year-old security guard, whose body was found last Friday.