As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continued rushing toward their July 1 deadline to reach an agreement on the next phase of Palestinian self-rule, Israeli security forces killed a prominent Hamas terrorist in Hebron.
Taher Kafisha had been implicated in the murder of five Israelis during the past 18 months. A member of the Border Police elite anti-terrorist unit was seriously injured in the operation, which occurred about 4 a.m. Thursday.
Combined forces of the Israel Defense Force, the Border Police unit and Shabak, Israel’s internal security service, surrounded two houses thought to have terrorists inside.
Gunshots were fired at the force, and one policeman was shot in the head. The force returned fire, and a battle, which lasted for more than an hour, ensued. Helicopters were called in, as well as reinforcements.
At the end of the battle, the two houses and a surrounding vineyard were destroyed by bulldozers. The body of Kafisha was found in the ruins. An assault rifle and a handgun were found next to him.
The killing came as Israel and the Palestinians were struggling to reach a face-saving agreement on the next phase of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank. The agreement is supposed to address an Israeli troop redeployment and the holding of Palestinian elections.
“The Israeli army has behaved in a brutal manner,” Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo said in reaction to the killing of Kafisha. “This is an incident that will inflame the situation.”
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators concluded three days of talks in cairo Thursday with a joint announcement that there will not be an agreement on the transfer of civilian powers by July 1.
However, an Israeli government ministerial committee, headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, reportedly decided to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners when an agreement on the next phase of self-rule is signed. The committee said hundreds more would be released when elections are held in the territories.
Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli security forces all week, trying to push the prisoner issue to the top of the agenda.
Kafisha, 23, one of the most senior leaders of the fundamentalist Hamas movement, was the commander of the Hebron-based Izz a-Din al-Kassam five-man terrorist unit.
Izz a-Din al-Kassam is the military wing of the Hamas movement. The four other members of the unit had been killed by the IDF in recent months.
Kafisha, however, managed to escape, and to continue with his terrorist activities. He had been high on the wanted list of the Israel Defense Force for some time.
After the incident, Hebron was put under curfew and several Palestinians suspected of assisting Kafisha were detained.
The 20-year-old policeman, whose name was not immediately released pending notification of his family, was listed in critical condition in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.