JERUSALEM (Aug. 21)
For weeks, Israeli officials had warned that the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to act against terrorist groups was setting the stage for a renewal of violence that could destroy the fragile “road map” peace process.
Now, those predictions appear to be coming true.
On Thursday, two days after a suicide bomber killed 20 people aboard a packed Jerusalem bus, Israel responded with a rocket attack that killed a top leader of Hamas and two of his bodyguards.
In response, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — both of which claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem bus bombing — renounced the “cease-fire” they had declared in late June.
Israeli officials noted that the cease-fire had scarcely deserved the name, as 25 Israeli civilians had been killed and 168 wounded — in addition to two soldiers killed and nine wounded — since it was declared.
Hamas’ announcement that the killing had ended the “hudna” — the Arabic term for cease-fire, which implies a temporary pause in hostilities for the purposes of rearming — was not considered significant by Israeli sources, many of whom considered any cease-fire over with Tuesday’s bus bombing.
“There is no more room for hudna shmudna,” Israeli sources said. “The attack in Jerusalem changed the name of the game.”
After Tuesday’s deadly bus bombing, Israel’s Security Cabinet voted to resume targeted killings of terrorists, a policy that had been suspended to allow the road map to advance.
The policy was carried out only a few hours later, as missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter gunship in the Gaza Strip killed Hamas official Ismail Abu Shanab.
The Palestinian Authority’s failure to crack down on terrorism left Israel no choice but to act, David Baker, a senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, told JTA.
The targeted killing was Israel’s first since its failed attempt on another Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantissi, in June. Hamas vowed to avenge Thursday’s strike.
The Palestinian Authority sharply condemned Abu Shanab’s killing. P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called it “an ugly crime” and said the assassination would jeopardize any P.A. efforts to fight terrorism.
U.S. officials hardly criticized the attack.
“Israel has a right to defend herself but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. “It’s important for both parties to get back talking to one another. It’s important for the parties to work together to resolve these matters.”
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called on P.A. President Yasser Arafat to help Abbas crack down on Palestinian terrorists.
Powell also urged Israel and the Palestinians not to abandon the road map.
“The end of the road map is a cliff that both sides will fall off of,” he said, “and we have to make both parties understand that.”
Before the strike against Abu Shanab, Abbas had threatened to resign unless Arafat gave him a green light to undertake anti-terror operations. After Abbas’ threat, the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Arafat heads, approved an anti-terror plan.
The plan called for the Palestinian Authority to close down institutions and newspapers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, close their mosques and schools or fold them into official P.A. networks, and confiscate the groups’ arms.
In response, Hamas leaders called for Abbas’ resignation Thursday, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli observers said they did not expect the Palestinian Authority to take any drastic moves against terrorist groups for fear of civil war.
As a further response to Tuesday’s bombing, the Israel Defense Forces launched a series of anti-terrorist operations throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but officials said no massive invasion of Palestinian areas was planned.
Instead, the officials said, the IDF would undertake pinpoint operations over the next three to four weeks.
Late Wednesday, troops and tanks moved into the marketplace of the West Bank city of Nablus to search for terrorists. Three Palestinians — a 16-year-old from the nearby village of Tubas who was set to carry out a suicide bombing, and two Hamas bomb-makers — were arrested in the operation.
IDF soldiers also found a bomb laboratory in a Nablus apartment. Army sappers later blew up the apartment, which was in the same building as a bomb laboratory found last year.
Troops demolished the Hebron home of the terrorist who carried out Tuesday’s Jerusalem bombing, Israel Radio reported. Troops also destroyed the West Bank homes of three other terrorists who had carried out attacks on Israelis.
Thursday’s strike against Abu Shanab was the first killing at such a senior political level since the assassination two years ago of Abu Ali Mustafa, secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That strike came as a reprisal for the PFLP’s murder of Israel’s tourism minister, Rehavam Ze’evi, in a Jerusalem hotel.
Israeli sources described Abu Shanab as a member of Hamas’ senior leadership. However, sources said there was no proof of a direct link between Abu Shanab and the suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Israeli forces caught four Islamic Jihad militants on their way to perpetrate an attack in Haifa, according to an Israeli security report released Thursday. The militants, from Jenin, had planned to stage a terrorist attack the same day as the suicide bombing in Jerusalem,
Interrogators learned that the attack had been planned by Bashar Shuhana, a Palestinian released from an Israeli prison in March, the Jerusalem Post reported.