Israel is keeping the Palestinian self-rule enclave of Jericho sealed off from the rest of West Bank, demanding that the Palestine Authority hand over two Hamas militants suspected of planning last week’s suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials, however, refused to hand over the militants, saying that the two had been tried and sentenced in Jericho and would not be surrendered to Israeli authorities.
At the same time, some Israeli leaders expressed doubts that Israel had the legal justification to demand the extraditions.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters that Israeli authorities had investigated the matter and found that if the fugitives had committed their crimes on Israeli soil, then Israel could have demanded their extradition.
“But because their involvement was in Jericho, we cannot demand their extradition,” Peres said.
The two Hamas militants – Abed Al-Majid Dudin and Rajid al-Khatib, both from the West Bank town of Hebron – were arrested by Palestinian security forces last week, and subsequently tried by a Palestinian military court. Dudin was sentenced Saturday to 12 years in jail; al-Khatib received a seven-year sentence.
While the Israeli government has maintained that the two had helped plan the Aug. 21 Jerusalem bus bombing, which claimed the lives of five people, including the suicide bomber, the Palestinian indictments against them did not directly link them to the bombing.
Instead, the two were charged with endangering the interests and security of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis.
Dudin, 33, who had been wanted by Israel for several months, recently fled to Jericho, according to local news reports.
The demand for his and Khatib’s return underscored Israeli concerns that Jericho and other Palestinian self-rule areas could become safe havens for terrorists fleeing Israeli security forces.
“We know that there are terrorists in Jericho, and others are seeking refuge there,” said government spokesman Sheldon Schulman.
Israel extended the closure of Jericho to Sunday after it was imposed Aug. 23.
Israel Television quoted political sources as saying that Jericho remained sealed off not because of the extradition request, but because a third terrorist suspected of involvement in the Jerusalem attack was believed to be there.
Despite the controversy over the extraditions, Israeli and Palestinian officials attended a signing ceremony in Cairo to hand over eight additional spheres of civilian authority in the West Bank to the Palestinians.
Israeli Gen. Oren Shahor and Palestinian negotiator Jamil Tarifi signed the 22- page agreement, which gives the Palestinians administrative control over the areas of agriculture, postal services, insurance, gasoline, industry and commerce, labor, municipal affairs and statistics.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meeting in Eilat reached and agreement in principle last Friday regarding a long-contested issue: the allocation of water resources in the West Bank.
Israeli officially recognized Palestinian rights to water sources in the West Bank. In turn, the Palestinians agreed to defer the issue of who would have ultimate control cover water resources until the permanent-status negotiations slated to start next year.
Meanwhile, the fourth victim of the Jerusalem bus bombing was laid to rest after her body was identified last Friday.
Family members of Hannah Na’eh, 45, of Jerusalem identified her after pictures of the body were published in the media last week.
A divorced mother of three from a deeply religious family, she lost contact with them after ceasing to be observant.
A memorial service was held Sunday night for the victims of last week’s bomb attack.
The service, held at the site of the bombing in Jerusalem’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, was organized by the Likud opposition party.