Israel presses anti-terror efforts

Demonstrators protest Benjamin Ben-Eliezer´s pledge to evacuate illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, June 30 in Jerusalem. (Brian Hendler)

Demonstrators protest Benjamin Ben-Eliezer´s pledge to evacuate illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, June 30 in Jerusalem. (Brian Hendler)

JERUSALEM, June 30 (JTA) — U.S. diplomatic moves may be idling, but Israel’s anti-terror military operation in the West Bank is moving at full throttle. Launched following two recent suicide bombings in Jerusalem that killed 26 Israelis, the military campaign continued this week while Jewish settlers began dismantling illegal enclaves in the West Bank and a bomb blast shook morning commuters on a train in central Israel. On Sunday evening, Israeli troops assassinated a senior Hamas terrorist in Nablus. Mohaned Taher topped Israel’s list of suspected Palestinian terrorists. Taher, 26, was killed near the entrance to his house, according to Army Radio. Another wanted Hamas member was killed and a third was seriously wounded during the operation. According to reports, Taher had been on Israel’s wanted list for four years. He was considered an expert bomb-maker and was suspected of involvement in several suicide attacks in Israel, including a deadly bombing last year outside a Tel Aviv disco, the Passover Massacre at a seder in a Netanya hotel and one of the two suicide bombings in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Israel Radio quoted military sources as saying Taher’s operatives were responsible for killing some 100 Israelis and wounding hundreds. Israeli troops are operating in Palestinian cities across the West Bank, including Jenin, Nablus, Kalkilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. A blockade was in place around Tulkarm and Jericho. In Hebron, Israeli soldiers found no Palestinian gunmen Sunday amid the rubble of the Palestinian headquarters there. Soldiers searching the rubble of the compound, which the army blew up over the weekend, found no traces of some 15 Palestinian terror suspects who barricaded themselves there last week. Military sources were quoted as saying the Palestinians may have escaped undetected, possibly via underground passages. A four-day army siege on the building ended last Friday, when the army began tearing down the structure. A Palestinian official allowed to enter the site before the demolition said he found no one in the parts of the building he could access. In another incident, Israeli troops found 10 suspected Palestinian terrorists hiding in two ambulances in Ramallah. The Palestinians were apprehended when soldiers stopped the vehicles for routine checks Sunday, Army Radio reported. In the past, Palestinian officials complained about Israeli searches of Red Crescent ambulances. Israel countered that Palestinians have violated international law by using ambulances to transport weapons and explosives and as cover for terror attacks and assaults on Israeli troops. In another development Sunday, Jewish settlers began dismantling illegal outposts in the West Bank on Sunday. Israel Radio reported that 11 illegal outposts, only two of which were inhabited, were removed. On Saturday night, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer promised to dismantle 10 illegal outposts by Sunday night and another 10 within days. He said more would be taken down in coming weeks. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted settler leaders as saying an informal understanding had been reached with Ben-Eliezer regarding the dismantling of outposts built without government permission. But the leaders later issued a statement saying that dismantling settlements now could be seen as rewarding Palestinian terrorism. Most of the unauthorized outposts consist only of a few mobile homes set on West Bank hilltops. The Peace Now movement expressed concern that the enclaves being dismantled were “dummy” outposts, which would strengthen the settlers’ position in negotiations to keep other outposts. There has been little movement on the diplomatic front since President Bush made a major Middle East policy speech last week in which he called on the Palestinians to elect new leadership. While he did not mention Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat by name, other U.S. officials have not hesitated to do so. In televised interviews Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States is shunning Arafat because of his “failure of leadership.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice echoed the sentiment, telling CNN that there are “plenty of other Palestinian leaders to work with.” At Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated that any political progress was contingent upon a halt to Palestinian terrorism. Army Radio reported that Sharon had refused Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ request to engage in contacts with senior Palestinian officials. The report added that Sharon does not consider such contacts appropriate now, especially in the wake of Bush’s speech. Meanwhile, four people were lightly wounded Sunday when the bomb exploded on train tracks in central Israel. The explosion occurred around 7 a.m., shortly after a train carrying some 500 passengers left the Lod station traveling north from Beersheba to Haifa. The blast shattered windows in the train. Police said damage was minimal because the bomb was planted on tracks parallel to the ones used by the train. Police are investigating why the device was not discovered during routine security sweeps of the tracks and whether the bomb was set off remotely. Israel Radio reported that prior to the blast, a civilian had complained about a break in the fence enclosing the tracks.

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