A coordinated effort by Israeli security and army forces led to the weekend arrests of three Palestinians suspected of involvement in the Sept. 8 killing of a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Halhoul.
The arrests prompted President Ezer Weizman to call for apologies from those who had said the killing was carried out by Jewish extremists.
“All those that feel a need to apologize should do so,” he said Sunday, nothing that people should wait until all the facts are in before making generalizations.
Salman Zamareh, 22, was shot dead two weeks ago in his home in Halhoul, located near Hebron, by unidentified gunmen who were wearing Israeli army uniforms.
From the start, police announced that they were investigating all possibilities.
But speculation that Jewish extremists might be involved in the killing surfaced after Halhoul residents said some of the assailants spoke Hebrew, and after two small Jewish extremist groups, Eyal and the Sword of David, each claimed responsibility for the attack.
Israeli opposition leaders accused government ministers of exploiting the crime to last out at Jewish settlers.
The Likud Party called on Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Environment Minister Yossi Sarid to issue a public apology.
The Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said in a statement that even though two small Jewish extremists groups did claim responsibility for the attack, “this should not direct the prime minister and members of the Cabinet to put a blemish on the entire settler population.”
The Kiryat Arba Council, which represents settlers living near Hebron, said it was considering filing a libel suit, Israel Radio reported.
Peres said Saturday that he was relieved that the killers were not Jews.
“A load has been lifted from my heart,” he told Israel Radio.
Before the suspects were apprehended, members of Israel’s government has expressed the fear hat if the killers were Jewish, the Palestinian Authority would have added reason to demand an increased Palestinian security presence in the area surrounding Hebron.
Control over security in an around Hebron is among the major issues preventing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from reaching an agreement for extending self-rule in the West Bank.
Intelligence information gathered by Israeli officials, as well as bullet extracted from Zamareh’s body, pointed the investigation in the direction of Palestinians.
Zamareh’s body was exhumed Sept. 14 for a postmortem examination after investigators expressed the hope that they would be able to get information on the killers by comparing the bullet in Zamareh’s head with cartridges found at the scene.
Zamareh’s family initially objected to the postmortem, but later agreed, demanding that a pathologist be present on their behalf.
The focus of the investigation shifted to the Palestinians after a bullet from a Karel Gustav submachine gun was removed from Zamareh’s body.
That type o weapon was not used by the Israel Defense Force or Jewish settlers, police said.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that two of those arrested were twin brothers, and that the third suspect was their cousin.
Police were searching for a fourth person also believed to have been involved in the killing.
Police suspect that the four killed Zamareh when he entered his home in the middle of a burglary attempt.
Prior to reaching Zamareh’s house, the suspects ransacked other homes in Halhoul, stealing money and jewelry.
Israeli police, during searches of the homes of three of the suspects, found clothing and other evidence connecting them to the slaying.
Police said the three detainees were cooperating with police and had confessed to taking part in previous robberies in the Hebron area.
The suspects also conveyed information during questioning that only people involved in the killing could have known, police said.