JERUSALEM (Apr. 5)
As the atmosphere of threats, accusations and denials heats up, the circumstances surrounding the death of the Hamas movement’s chief bombmaker remain shrouded in mystery.
While Israel has denied any involvement in the death, Hamas officials have renewed their threats to avenge the killing of Mohiyedine Sharif, vowing to strike at Jewish targets in Israel and abroad.
Sunday’s threats came amid reports that the Palestinian pathologist who initially said last week that Sharif was shot dead before his body was planted in a car and an explosion set off on March 29, now says it is difficult to say whether Sharif was shot before or after the explosion.
At the same time, Palestinian police are looking into the theory that Sharif was shot by a Hamas member who collaborated with Israel.
Palestinian police, stung by a different theory, summoned a Hamas spokesman for questioning after he reportedly stated that Sharif had been assassinated by the Palestinian preventive security service.
The spokesman, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who was quoted by the Jerusalem Post and Israel Radio’s Arabic service, said Sharif had been tortured by Palestinian preventive security service agents to provide the names of those Palestinians who helped him hide.
Rantissi reportedly added that in order to cover up the arrest, Palestinian security officials put Sharif’s body in the car and blew it up.
Rantissi later denied the remarks attributed to him.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, told Sharif’s family during a condolence visit, “We consider him a Palestinian martyr.”
Sharif, 32, was seen as the heir to Yehiya Ayash, who was killed by a booby- trapped cellular phone in Gaza Strip in January 1996. Ayash had topped Israel’s most-wanted list for masterminding a series of suicide bombings that killed scores of Israelis.
Sharif, too, was on Israel’s list of wanted Hamas terrorists for his involvement in planning several suicide bombings.
But observers point to a difference between Israeli officials’ public stances in the two cases: While Israel would neither confirm nor deny accusations that it was behind Ayash’s death, in Sharif’s case the denials have been unequivocal.
Indeed, the head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service was dispatched last week to tell Arafat that Israel had nothing to do with Sharif’s death.
Israeli officials believe that Sharif was killed during an accident at a bomb- making factory in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Sunday that last week’s explosion provided proof that the Palestinian Authority was not taking sufficient steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the autonomous areas.
Netanyahu has made such a crackdown a precondition for advancing the deadlocked negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
“As was proved in the recent case in which another bomb factory was discovered in Ramallah, right under the noses of the Palestinian Authority, there exists a widespread Hamas terrorist infrastructure in territories against which the Palestinian Authority is not acting systematically,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a statement issued after Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, an Israeli army officer in the Ramallah area said that even if Sharif’s death were part of an internal Palestinian dispute, Israel would be the target of a retaliation.
Netanyahu demanded last Friday that Palestinian officials stop blaming Israel for Sharif’s death and warned he would hold them responsible for any revenge attacks against Israel.
Israeli security forces remained on high alert Sunday.
In the Gaza Strip, border police and army troops dismantled a small homemade bomb that had been left at a perimeter fence near the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish settlements. A sign with anti-Jewish slogans was found attached to the package.
Near Ramallah, Israeli security forces detained five Palestinians suspected of throwing stones last Friday at an Israeli car, seriously wounding the driver.
The driver, Eliezer Frankel of Rishon le-Zion, remained listed in serious condition at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.