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IDF soldier, missing for months, found dead in Palestinian village

JERUSALEM, April 10 (JTA) — Israeli security forces, acting on information obtained in part from Palestinian police, have uncovered the body of an Israeli soldier kidnapped and murdered by a Hamas terrorist cell from the Hebron area. Israel Defense Force security officials said the soldier, Sharon Edri, was killed by members of a cell of the Hamas military wing, responsible for murdering 10 other Israelis and wounding 49 in attacks since the beginning of 1996. The army said members of the cell, which has until now evaded capture by Israeli troops, lived in Hebron and the nearby village of Tsurif. The head of the IDF central command, Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, told a news conference Thursday night that there were at least six members in the terrorist cell. Dayan said two had been arrested by Israeli security forces, two by Palestinian police, one was the suicide bomber in last month’s suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv cafe and another was still at large. The man responsible for carrying out the March 21 suicide attack had come from Tsurif. Security officials said the two cell members arrested by Palestinian police were arrested in the part of Hebron that is under self-rule. Information from their interrogation was conveyed to CIA officials, who in turn passed it on to Israel. Israeli officials would not confirm whether the information had emerged during secret talks held in the Gaza Strip earlier this week, when Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat met with Israeli and American intelligence officials. IDF forces clamped a curfew Thursday on Tsurif. The deputy IDF chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnai, said 18 residents of the village had been arrested in connection with the cell and that the investigation was continuing. The body of Edri, who disappeared seven months ago on his way home from an army medical clinic in Israel, was found in Tsurif. The IDF said in a statement that it appeared that Edri was kidnapped on his way home from the Tsrifin army base in a car with Israeli license plates. The terrorists shot him and buried him in the village. Members of Edri’s family had sharp criticism for the Israeli security establishment, which they said did not sufficiently concentrate their searches for Edri on the assumption that he was kidnapped by terrorist organizations.
Relatives said that despite their efforts, police continued to examine whether Edri could have committed suicide, or disappeared for other circumstances. Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai acknowledged that information provided by the Hamas cell members arrested by the Palestinians had aided in locating the body. But Mordechai added that despite the security cooperation in this particular incident, the Palestinian Authority was still not doing enough to crack down on terror. Earlier in the day, Mordechai said Israel would have no difficulty recapturing the Palestinian population centers transferred to self-rule. “There would be no difficulty recapturing Hebron or any other city, but we don’t want to do that,” Mordechai told reporters during a tour of northern Israel. “We want the Palestinians to honor the agreements so we can make progress in the process and reach a solution without dangers and threats.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking in Holland, sought to ensure that there was no misunderstanding of Mordechai’s comments. “It is true that we have the capability to return to the towns, but we are not interested, as the defense minister rightly said,” the premier told reporters. “We are searching for another option, primarily stopping violence and terror, and continuing the peace process.” Netanyahu expressed appreciation for the “specific assistance” from the Palestinian Authority that led to the location of Edri’s body. But he, too, stressed that the self-rule authority was still obligated to carry out wide-ranging measures to crack down on Islamic terrorist organizations in the autonomous areas. Netanyahu added that Israel would seek the extradition of the two Hamas cell members held by the Palestinian security forces.