Terrorist attacks over the weekend, including one in which a pregnant Israeli woman was killed, have prompted heightened concerns here about the peace process and led to more calls for tighter security throughout Israel.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, several ministers warned that if the Palestine Liberation Organization fails to bring down the level of terrorism, the entire peace process will come grinding to a halt.
On Friday night, a 30-year-old pregnant mother of two, Tzipporah Sasson, was shot and killed on the Trans-Samaria highway, a main thoroughfare in the West Bank.
Sasson, a resident of the West Bank town of Ariel, was laid to rest in Ashkelon on Sunday.
And on Monday, there was a shooting attack on an Israel Defense Force jeep traveling near the West Bank town of Ramallah. The attack prompted army and security forces to mount a large-scale search operation throughout the West Bank.
No one was injured in the attack on the jeep, but suspicion immediately arose that the perpetrators were the same terrorists who ambushed and killed Sasson.
The attack on Sasson triggered a wave of angry Jewish demonstrations throughout Israel on Saturday night.
A rowdy demonstration involving hundreds of settlers at a main intersection outside Petach Tikvah, located east of Tel Aviv, was broken up by police, who made several arrests.
The murder of Sasson also led settlers to set up roadblocks on key West Bank arteries early Monday morning.
“If we can’t travel safely, they won’t travel either,” settler leaders vowed, referring to the West Bank Arab population.
Police forensic experts have established conclusively that the weapon used in the Friday night murder of Sasson was used in three other recent attacks in the West Bank: on Dec. 6 in Hebron, when a father and son, Mordechai and Shalom Lapid, were shot as they waited by the roadside; on Dec. 22 near Ramallah, when two fervently Orthodox Jews, Meir Mendelovitz and Eliahu Levin, were shot from a passing car; and on Feb. 13, when Noam Cohen, a member of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, was killed, also in a shooting ambush.
In all these cases, the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, a group bitterly opposed to the peace process, took responsibility for the shootings.
According to a printed flyer circulated in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, the ambush Friday night was intended as revenge for the shooting of Palestinian children in recent clashes between the IDF and Palestinians.
The flyer promised further revenge killings.
Meanwhile, in the ongoing Israeli-PLO negotiations, which resumed in Cairo on Monday after a weekend recess, the Palestinian side is reported to have proposed that its intelligence operatives be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip and Jericho area even before the formal handing over of these areas takes place.
The Palestinians reportedly explained to the Israeli, side that this was necessary if the PLO was to take a firm hold of security in the two areas.
At Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, the ministers were told that 23 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza by fellow Palestinians during the month of February alone.
Minister of Education Amnon Rubenstein referred to the situation in Gaza as a state of “murderous anarchy.”
He and other ministers obliquely raised the idea of reimposing a total closure of the territories – a move similar to the action taken last March following a wave of terrorist attacks inside Israel.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declined to hold a full-scale discussion of the security situation during the Cabinet session, explaining that he preferred to hold the discussions within the smaller Ministerial Defense Committee.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres later said there would not be a closure of the territories. He indicated instead that would be an increased number of IDF patrols on West Bank roads.