TEL AVIV (Jul. 18)
In the wake of bloody riots on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israeli and Palestinian officials are working together to investigate the cause of the violence that left at least two dead and scores wounded.
The Erez checkpoint at the northern end of the Gaza Strip was quiet and empty Monday, closed down indefinitely by Israeli officials following the mass rioting a day earlier by Palestinian laborers seeking entry into Israel.
When the daylong melee was over, two Palestinians were dead and at least 75 were wounded. On the Israeli side, 17 soldiers and border police were wounded, as well as a civilian employee of the Egged bus cooperative.
At least one member of the Israeli border police was in critical condition.
Sunday’s violence, the bloodiest since Palestinian self-rule began in Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho in May, precipitated a crisis of confidence between Israel and the Palestinians at a time when officials from the two sides are trying to determine how far to extend autonomy throughout the West Bank.
The joint Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization coordinating committee that is overseeing the autonomy agreement met Monday to discuss the ramifications of the rioting and the closure of the border.
Israeli officials have said the border would remain closed — and no Palestinian workers would be allowed entry — until a more efficient inspection arrangement is established.
The committee is also trying to determine why the Palestinian police force failed to perform a preliminary check of would-be laborers to ensure that they had Israeli-issued work permits and that they carried no firearms.
Israel’s top military official, Maj Gen. Ehud Barak, has blamed the whole episode on the Palestinian police for not showing up early enough to oversee the checkpoint.
By the time the police arrived and began the procedure, Barak said, it was already after dawn, hours after the workers had begun assembling at the border.
Pressing forward at the Erez crossing, a group of laborers began throwing rocks at the Israeli officials at the other side of the check-point.
INVESTIGATING IF HAMAS INCITED VIOLENCE
The Palestinian police, apparently 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.
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.
Meanwhile, the joint Israeli-PLO committee is also reportedly examining evidence that organizers from Hamas, the anti-peace Muslim fundamentalist organization, were present at the checkpost, orchestrating and encouraging the rioters.
According to reports, Hamas organizers stood out in the crowd as they moved from group to group.
They were dressed in long white Arab robes that are the preferred uniform of the extremist religious Hamas and are rarely worn by Palestinians seeking work in Israel.
Following searches in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian police reportedly have arrested persons involved in the printing of Hamas-signed posters appealing for anti-Israel demonstrations at the border.
In addition to the human casualties in the daylong rioting, property damage incurred by the rioting is estimated to total millions of dollars.