Israel Extends Closure Despite Palestinian Crackdown

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared this week that a recently imposed closure on the Gaza Strip and West Bank would remain in effect until Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat shows that he can control terror.

“We will face a security need to prevent the uncontrolled flow of Palestinian workers and vehicles from the territories to Israel,” Rabin said Tuesday during a tour of Gaza.

Israel imposed the closure, which prevents thousands of Palestinians from working in Israel, after militants belonging to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad fundamentalist movements staged two separate suicide bombings in Gaza.

The April 9 attacks killed seven Israeli soldiers and an American woman who was studying in Israel.

Prior to the complete closure, Israel had restricted all Palestinian vehicles from entering the Jewish state from Gaza.

The restrictions came last month after Israeli police discovered an explosive- laden truck near Beersheba that had been driven into Israel from Gaza. According to two suspects arrested by the Israeli police, Hamas terrorists were planning to blow up the truck on the streets of Beersheba.

This week, a military court of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza sentenced Hamas member Mohammed Simri, 29 , to nine years in prison for his role in that foiled truck-bombing attack.

Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority handed down its first convictions of members of Izz a-Din Al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas.

Prosecutor General Khaled Al-Kidra said Mohammad Abu Shamala and Raid Al-Atar were sentenced to two years in prison for training with unlicensed weapons.

Last week, the Palestinian military court sentenced Omar Shalah, a Muslim cleric who is a leading figure in the Islamic Jihad fundamentalist movement, to life imprisonment for inciting civil strife.

A day earlier, the court sentenced another Islamic Jihad militant to 15 years in jail for recruiting children to stage suicide bombings.

The jail sentences imposed on Islamic militants were part of a crackdown launched last week by Arafat after the April 9 suicide bombings.

The crackdowns brought warnings last week from leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad of a possible Palestinian civil war.

In an effort to ease strains, Hamas leaders held a secret meeting with officials of the Palestinian Authority on Sunday.

But the meeting reportedly failed to yield results, with Hamas leaders rejecting Arafat’s demand that the group stop launching attacks against Israelis.

Israeli security sources this week expressed satisfaction with the actions taken by Arafat against Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but said they have not gone far enough.

But the sources said that despite the efforts of Palestinian police in Gaza, they have yet to locate the most wanted fugitives, who are reportedly being given shelter in Gaza by supporters of the militant groups.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz said Arafat reportedly asked for Israel to lift the closure on the territories in exchange for his crackdown on fundamentalist activists.

Arafat also reportedly asked for permission to allow Palestinian products, primarily agricultural goods, into Israel.

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