TEL AVIV (Jul. 17)
Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak has placed the blame squarely on the Palestinian police for the outbreak of violent riots by day laborers from the Gaza Strip seeking entry to Israel.
At least two Palestinians were killed and some 75 were wounded in Sunday’s riots, believed to be the worst episode of violence since Palestinian self-rule began in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho in May.
Some 21 Israelis were also reported injured by shots fired by Palestinian police and by rocks thrown by the laborers.
Among the Israelis injured were 17 border police, three soldiers and a civilian employee of the Egged bus cooperative. One of the border police was reported in serious condition.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Sunday, Barak said Palestinian police officers had failed to show up at the Erez checkpoint in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday to oversee the first check of Palestinian workers before they were allowed entry into Israel.
The Palestinian police are responsible for ensuring that the day laborers who seek work in Israel possess valid work permits and are not carrying weapons.
By the time the police arrived and began the procedure, Barak said, it was already after dawn. Pressing forward at the Erez crossing, a group of laborers began throwing rocks at the Israeli officials on the other side of the checkpoint.
Barak insisted that Palestinian authorities investigate the behavior of their police, who, unable to handle the mob, fired on both the Palestinian workers and on Israeli security personnel located on the other side of the crossing at the northern end of the Gaza Strip.
MOST SHOTS FROM PALESTINIAN POLICE
Israeli soldiers and border police opened fire on the legs of the rioters, but most of the shots fired were said to have come from the weapons of the Palestinian police.
The mob overran the checkpoint and rushed the Egged bus terminal located near the Erez crossing.
The Palestinian workers set fire to some 20 Egged buses that were waiting in the parking lot to transport the laborers to places of work within Israel.
They also torched the Egged gas station.
In addition, the rioters threw gasoline bombs at an IDF armored personnel carrier, which burst into flames.
According to news reports, smoke could be seen from 10 miles away.
Barak said the crossing would remain closed and Gaza residents would not be permitted to work in Israel until arrangements had been made to insure that Gaza police screen the entry of workers in a satisfactory manner.
A week earlier, Palestinian workers frustrated by delays at the checkpoint had also rioted, prompting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to seal off Gaza for 24 hours.
Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Gur said Israeli and Palestinian officials had held several meetings during the past week in an effort to speed up the inspection process.
But the Palestinians had failed to abide by the agreements reached, Gur said.
In the wake of the rioting, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat reportedly complained to the U.N. Security Council over what he said was Israeli fire at “innocent Palestinians” who were merely seeking employment in Israel.
As word of the riot spread, violent demonstrations erupted in West Bank towns, including Hebron and Nablus. In Hebron, the army imposed a curfew in the main square after engaging in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians. Clashes were also reported in Ramallah.