Israel Takes out Militia Team As Palestinian Authority Cries Foul

Palestinian officials decry as war crimes Israel’s “pinpoint” helicopter strikes — including a recent one that killed a militia member suspected of planning attacks on Israelis — but an Israeli Cabinet member says they are acts of self-defense.

“They are not assassinations,” Science Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio on Sunday. “We are hitting the people who attack us or are planning attacks.

“If you are fired on and you fire back, that is self-defense. So if you do it 10 minutes earlier, is that not self-defense?”

Vilnai turned to the Talmud to justify killing Palestinians suspected of plotting violence against Israelis.

“If somebody comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first,” Vilnai said.

Palestinians say the attacks are extrajudicial assassinations of figures Israel accuses of planning and carrying out attacks.

According to witnesses, Israeli army helicopters fired Saturday on a car in which members of the Palestinians’ Tanzim militia were traveling in the West Bank city Jenin.

One passenger, Motassem Sabah, was killed. Palestinian sources said a Palestinian police officer who was standing nearby also was killed and 17 Palestinians were wounded.

Reports said the first rocket missed the car, and the other passengers were able to flee before a second rocket hit the mark. Sabah could not get out in time because of a previous injury.

Among the passengers who fled the car was Abdel Karim Oweis, whom Palestinian sources said could have been the target of the strike.

Israeli security officials said Oweis heads a militia cell — whose members include Sabah — that was working to transfer mortar bombs from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and that was planning to fire them on the Israeli settlements of Kadim and Ganim.

The Israeli security sources also said Sabah had been involved in shooting attacks on Israelis and in planting bombs.

The head of Palestinian intelligence in the West Bank, Tawfik Tirawi, was quoted as denying the Israeli allegations.

Palestinian officials denounced Saturday’s strike, and a group affiliated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party vowed to avenge the killings.

Following Israel’s capture last week of a Gaza-bound fishing boat carrying weapons — including Katyusha rockets and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles — from Lebanon, Israeli officials have warned against Palestinian efforts to escalate the fighting.

In other weekend violence, two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded last Friday when a grenade was thrown from a passing Palestinian vehicle toward an Israel Defense Force outpost in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians also fired 11 mortars at Israeli settlements inside the Gaza Strip and at kibbutzim in Israel.

A resident of the Neveh Dekalim settlement in Gaza was wounded in one of the mortar attacks.

A 16-year-old Palestinian boy died of wounds sustained during clashes with IDF troops while demonstrating last Friday in Gaza.

In another incident that day, two Polish tourists were treated for shock after a pipe bomb hidden beneath some bushes exploded near the Jaffa Gate outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

On Saturday, a 13-year-old girl from the Israeli community of Bat Hefer was lightly wounded Saturday by gunfire from the West Bank.

Reports Sunday said Israeli security forces detained eight Palestinians in the Tulkarm and Bethlehem areas for suspected involvement in terrorist activity.

And on Sunday evening, an Israeli was lightly wounded in the hand when shots were fired at his car in the West Bank.

Reports said IDF troops on Sunday also neutralized bombs discovered in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt.

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