Israel Seizes Control of Tulkarm in Effort to Root out Terror Cells

After months of calling on the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorists, Israel took matters into its own hands this week.

Days after a Palestinian terrorist from the West Bank city of Tulkarm opened fire at a Bat Mitzvah in northern Israel, killing six Israelis and wounding more than 30, the Israeli army seized control of Tulkarm and launched an operation aimed at rounding up terrorists who had found safe haven there.

The move was a part of a new cycle of attacks and reprisals that shattered a period of relative calm and appeared to end hopes that the two sides could reach a cease-fire any time soon.

Israel said the incursion was temporary and aimed at rooting out terrorists, but the move was seen as a further blow to Arafat’s prestige.

The incursion marked the first time since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 that Israel took over an entire Palestinian city.

Around 3 a.m. Monday, Israeli ground troops backed by helicopters seized positions in the city. The army imposed a curfew, began arresting militants and rounded up weapons.

Palestinian sources said a 19-year-old Palestinian was killed and three other people wounded in clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops.

Shortly before the incursion, Israel informed the Palestinian Authority of the operation, saying it was targeting the terrorist infrastructure in the city, not the Palestinian Authority.

The army spokesman said terrorists — including the gunman who carried out the Jan. 17 terror attack in Hadera — were being sent from Tulkarm to attack Israeli targets.

The Israeli army said the troops would remain in Tulkarm “until the completion of the search and detention of terrorists.”

In other reprisals for the Hadera attack, Israeli troops Saturday destroyed the Palestinian radio and television broadcasting headquarters in Ramallah. A day earlier, Israel rocketed Palestinian Authority offices in Tulkarm, killing one Palestinian policeman and injuring at least 20 people.

Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh hinted at possible action in other hotbeds of terrorist activity.

“Mainly in the northern West Bank, there is a very profound infrastructure of terrorist attacks from all organizations, which is likely to blow up among us at any time in the most deadly fashion,” Sneh told Israel’s Army Radio.

Palestinian officials accused Israel of planning to reassume control over the entire West Bank and called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Arafat said Monday the Israeli action “crossed all red lines,” and warned that the Palestinians would not stand idly by.

Tensions were further deepened by reports that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may reopen Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to Jews.

Sharon has been telling aides he wants the site opened again to Jews, Christians and everyone else, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Monday.

The site has been closed to non-Muslims since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Palestinians warned that re-opening the site to Jews would be viewed as a provocation.

At the same time, former President Clinton, who coaxed Israel into far-reaching concessions under former Prime Minster Ehud Barak, urged Israelis not to lose hope for peace.

In a speech Sunday in Tel Aviv, where he received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University, Clinton also said there would be no peace while terrorism prevails.

He also said Arafat had missed a “golden opportunity” for peace at the July 2000 Camp David summit.

“I think the violence and terrorism which followed were not inevitable, and have been a terrible mistake,” he said.

Last week, after a relative lull in Palestinian terror, the violence and terrorism escalated yet again.

After four Israelis were killed in a series of shooting attacks early in the week, the Palestinian terrorist opened fire at the Bat Mitzvah celebration. The Hadera attack was the largest since Arafat called for a cease-fire a month ago.

Israeli officials said they held Arafat responsible for the attack, because he failed to implement a thorough crackdown on terrorist groups and left their military infrastructures intact.

The attack was claimed by the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, a militia of Arafat’s Fatah Party.

Inside the David’s Palace banquet hall, guests were celebrating the coming of age of Nina Kardashova when a Palestinian man burst through the glass doors, shouting in Arabic and firing an M-16 assault rifle.

“Suddenly somebody charged through shouting and immediately began to start firing,” an employee of the banquet hall told the Jerusalem Post. “I don’t know how many people were in the hall at the time, because it was toward the end of the reception.”

Kardashova’s grandfather was among the victims.

“The terrorist destroyed the happiest day of my life,” Kardashova told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv.

The dead were identified as Aharon Ben Yisrael-Alis, 32, of Ra’anana, an American citizen; Dina Binayav, 48, of Ashkelon; Edward Bakshayev, 48, and Anatoli Bakshayev, 63, both of Or Akiva; Avi Yazadi, 25, of Hadera; and Boris Melihov, 56, of Sderot.

The attacker, who was beaten unconscious by Bat Mitzvah guests and then shot by police, was identified as Abed Hassouna, 24.

The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade said the killing was in retaliation for the bombing death earlier last week of Raed Karmi, a leader of the group in Tulkarm.

Palestinians accused Israel of assassinating Karmi. Israel neither confirmed nor denied the charge, but accused Karmi of being behind the deaths of nine Israelis in a series of terror attacks.

The United States denounced the Hadera attack as “horrific” and “vicious.”

Israeli spokesman Ra’anan Gissin said Arafat was responsible for the attack because he had not acted to control terrorism.

“We will do what he failed to do,” Gissin told The Associated Press. “We will arrest those who need to be arrested. We will stop those who need to be stopped.”

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