Arab Terror Punctuates Debate on Israeli Presence in West Bank

The latest act of Palestinian terrorism comes amid a debate in Israel regarding the continued military presence in the West Bank.

Tuesday’s attack, which killed at least seven Israelis near the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, followed a nearly monthlong lull in terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Israeli security officials attributed the lull in part to the tight military clampdown on Palestinian cities. The army launched its massive anti-terror operation in the West Bank after 31 Israelis were killed in three successive attacks in mid-June.

While advocates of the army’s anti-terror operation in the West Bank say it has prevented attacks and led to the arrests of suspected terrorists, some officials in the security establishment have warned that the measures being taken, including prolonged curfews, are creating a pressure-cooker situation among Palestinian civilians that could blow up in Israel’s face.

With this in mind, the Israeli government last week renewed contacts with Palestinian Authority officials with the aim of finding ways to ease sanctions on the Palestinian civilian population.

The army, meanwhile, has taken steps to ease curfews and reportedly made preparations to reduce its presence in areas that are quiet.

Amid the debate over the army’s actions, the newly appointed Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, warned Tuesday that pulling Israeli soldiers out of the West Bank now would be seen by the Palestinians as surrender.

“A withdrawal from the Palestinian Authority territories at this time will not ensure a halt to terror, but will be interpreted as a capitulation that will hurt Israel’s deterrent capabilities on all fronts,” Ya’alon was quoted as telling a Knesset committee.

Comparing the Israeli army’s current policy to a blanket to smother fires, Ya’alon said, “Where there is quiet, the blanket will be removed, as is currently happening in Jericho and Hebron. In places where the shooting continues, we cannot remove it.”

Following Tuesday’s terror attack, Israel canceled talks planned for Wednesday with Palestinian officials.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced the cancellation after meeting with the Israeli panel coordinating Israel’s position in the recently renewed talks with Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning attacks against all innocent civilians, Israeli and Palestinian alike.

At the same time, however Palestinian Authority official Nabil Sha’ath was quoted as telling Abu Dhabi Television that Israel bears responsibility for the attack as long as it continues to control Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

For their part, Israeli officials blamed Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the attack.

Political sources in Jerusalem were quoted as saying that as long as Arafat remains at the head of the Palestinian Authority and meaningful reforms are not implemented, the attacks will continue.

In Tuesday’s attack — which was hauntingly similar to one carried out last December — Palestinian terrorists set off a bomb as a bus neared the entrance to Immanuel. In December, 10 Israelis were killed and 23 wounded.

In Tuesday’s attack, three terrorists, who were dressed in Israeli army uniforms, opened fire as people fled the bus, witnesses said.

Along with the fatalities, at least 15 were wounded, seven of them seriously.

Eager to gather plaudits from their supporters, four Palestinian groups claimed responsibility — the military wing of Arafat’s Fatah movement, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The well-planned ambush occurred around 3 p.m. as the bus was arriving at Immanuel from Bnei Brak.

Along with firing at the passengers fleeing the bus, the terrorists also threw grenades. Some of the victims were in nearby cars.

Ambulances and army helicopters were brought in to treat the wounded and evacuate them to nearby hospitals, as security forces launched a search for the attackers.

Josiah Harrari, a volunteer on a local rescue team who helped treat the wounded, described the scene as a “horrible massacre.”

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