JERUSALEM (Jul. 24)
A two-mile stretch of road leading to the main Gaza Strip settlement bloc has become Israel’s security nightmare. Jerusalem couple Dov and Rachel Kol were killed in their car Saturday night in a Palestinian ambush as they drove home from a weekend visit with family at Gush Katif via the Kissufim route.
For Israel’s top brass, such tragedy was just a matter of time. Kissufim, already an important road for Israelis traveling to Gaza, has become a major thoroughfare for people — some with permits, some without — flocking to Gush Katif as part of efforts to prevent the upcoming Gaza withdrawal.
“With so many Israelis on the road at all hours of the day or night, it is hardly surprising the terrorists seized on the opportunity,” a senior Israeli security source said Sunday.
There have been no reports that the Kol visit to Gaza was tied to the pullout protests.
Israeli troops killed the two gunmen who attacked the Kols’ car, members of Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Brigade. But it was no consolation for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Sharon hinted that Israel had an unprecedented response in store for any further Palestinian attacks.
“Israel will not countenance this terrorism,” he told the Cabinet. “I made clear to the secretary of state that our response will be of a different kind, using very tough new measures,” referring to his recent meetings with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But Israel’s security forces are already stretched to the limit, thanks in part to nationwide protests by anti-pullout activists.
Police blocked a planned pro-settler march on Gush Katif last week by declaring it illegal and then blocking the route.
In response, many of the younger would-be marchers slipped into Gush Katif on foot or by hiding in the trunks of residents’ cars that traveled along the Kissufim route.
Security forces, which have sealed off Gaza settlements as a prelude to next month’s withdrawal, arrested between 200 and 300 pro-settler infiltrators. But activists said that as many as 1,000 others managed to get in.
Israel’s security fence around Gaza faced another challenge, from the United States.
Rice, who left Saturday after a whirlwind visit to Israel and the West Bank, urged Sharon to guarantee that Gaza gets a lifeline to the outside world after it is handed over to the Palestinian Authority.
“When the Israelis withdraw from Gaza, it cannot be sealed or isolated” with the Palestinian people closed in, she told reporters.
“We are committed to connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank and we are committed to openness and freedom of movement for the Palestinian people,” Rice said.
To add to the internal Israeli pressure, the Yesha settler council said it would mount a new march on Gush Katif on Aug. 1.
On the other side of the issue is Ami Ayalon, a former Shin Bet chief who launched a countrywide tour to drum up support for the Gaza withdrawal.
Ayalon denied that the convoy he is leading on a weeklong trek between Israeli cities is seeking to boost Sharon.
“We are here to represent Israel’s center, which wants the disengagement to lead to the beginning of a real reconciliation with the Palestinians,” Ayalon told JTA.
“On that level, Sharon owes us as many answers as he does to the anti-disengagement crowd. Where is the country going? If our concessions end with the Gaza withdrawal, can the prime minister really guarantee we will remain a Jewish democracy?”