TEL AVIV (May. 22)
The killing of two Israeli soldiers at a Gaza Strip checkpoint last Friday has highlighted what many security officials consider a major problem in the autonomy accord Israel signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Cairo earlier this month.
Under the terms of the accord, which establishes Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho, the Israel Defense Force can only pursue individuals suspected of terrorism into the autonomous areas during a violent incident, not after it has already occurred.
Israel’s right-wing opposition immediately pounced on the attack as proof that Israel had reached poorly conceived security arrangements with the PLO.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who faced criticism about the security issue from some members of his own Cabinet, directed his charges against Palestinian leaders.
At a news conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, Rabin said that Palestinian failure to control the violence against Israelis could put the continuation of the peace process at risk.
If the Palestinians do not prove that they can take control of Gaza and Jericho, “it will make it harder for us to continue and execute the further stages of the declaration of principles that we signed,” he said, referring to the autonomy blueprint inked last September in Washington.
But the prime minister also warned the Israeli public that “so long as occupation continues and there is resistance, we will have to continue to pay the price in blood.
“Blood is the price of an occupation of a foreign nation rising up against our control,” he added.
Nabil Sha’ath, the senior PLO negotiator in the Cairo talks, said after he arrived in Gaza last Friday that the Palestinian police would investigate the murders, but not engage in a manhunt.
If the Israelis “give us names of suspects, we can investigate,” he was quoted as saying.
PALESTINIANS ARE ‘DISORGANIZED’
IDF sources stated meanwhile that the Palestinian leadership should not be blamed entirely for last Friday’s incident.
“The problem is inherent in the (self-rule) agreement itself, in that it prevents us from going after assailants and terrorists,” one officer said.
But he also said the Palestinians are “disorganized” and demanded that they “make sure that cars headed toward Israel aren’t carrying gunmen.”
The issue of whether the IDF can engage in “hot pursuits” of suspected terrorists fleeing into the autonomous zones was among the numerous security issues that were subject to lengthy Israeli-PLO negotiations before the Cairo agreement was signed.
Two Islamic fundamentalist groups opposed to the Israeli-PLO peace initiative, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, were quick to claim responsibility for last Friday’s attack.
The two victims of the attack, both of whom were on reserve duty, were identified as Staff Sgt. Moshe Bukra, 30, and Cpl. Erez Ben-Baruch, 24.
Along with a third soldier, they were manning a temporary roadblock at the Erez checkpoint, at the northern end of Gaza, at dawn Friday when a vehicle came at them from the direction of Gaza City. The vehicle passed them, did a U-turn and then opened fire at the guard post as it returned.
The two soldiers were killed on the spot, but the third soldier, who was unhurt, managed to fire a few shots at the fleeing attackers, who sped toward Beit Lahiya in Gaza, which had officially come under Palestinian control only a few days earlier.
Israeli reinforcements soon rushed to the site of the attack, but they refrained from pursuing the vehicle.
GAZA IS SEALED OFF
In a separate incident the same day, two civilian Israelis who were driving a garbage truck were slightly wounded when shot at from a passing car near the settlement of Morag, at the southern end of Gaza.
There was further unrest Sunday, when one member of Islamic Jihad was killed and four Hamas members were captured by the IDF following a 10-hour operation in the West Bank town of Hebron.
The IDF strike followed the murder of two Israeli settlers south of Hebron last week by members of Hamas.
The man belonging to Islamic Jihad was killed when the IDF fired two anti-tank missiles at a building in which he was hiding, refusing to surrender. He was said to have been responsible for a recent attack on an IDF soldier.
In response to Friday’s incidents in Gaza, Prime Minister Rabin immediately ordered the IDF to seal off Gaza until May 29.
The IDF is demanding that the Palestinian police set up roadblocks inside Gaza, where Palestinian residents and their vehicles can be searched for arms before they reach Israel.
Palestinian officers conceded after the attack that they still lacked effective control over Gaza. They said there were not yet enough police officers in place, and they complained again that they lack funds to pay their salaries.