JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) Israel’s prime minister says the public should stay alert because Islamic militants opposed to the peace process may try to carry out terrorist attacks in the coming months.
Ehud Barak’s remarks before the Cabinet on Sunday came as Israeli security forces went on heightened alert for possible attacks in central Israel after four Palestinian terrorists were killed and another apprehended in a shootout last week.
“We are prepared throughout the central region in order to prevent and thwart attempted attacks. There is no need to panic, those who need to look” for terrorists “will do so and in the end will find them,” Israel’s central district police commander, Ze’ev Even Hen, was quoted as saying.
The head of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, said the Palestinian Authority would do its part to thwart any attacks despite what he termed Barak’s failure to uphold his end of the agreements with the self-rule government.
“We should not exaggerate, but there is a basis to the warnings. There are certain groups that want to stop the process by killing innocent people,” Rajoub told Israel Radio.
Rajoub said he was unaware of reports that one of the bodyguards to Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin was linked to the Hamas terrorist cell uncovered in the northern Israeli Arab village of Taibe on March 2.
Four terrorists were killed and another apprehended in a day-long siege by Israeli security forces on the building the cell had chosen to serve as a base for attacks inside Israel.
The operation began when the security forces, acting on intelligence information, surrounded the building and ordered the gunmen out.
One cell member was apprehended, and two were killed in an initial gunfight. When bulldozers were brought to tear the building down, another gunfight and explosion ensued, and two more cell members were buried beneath the rubble.
Israeli security forces believe, based on the explosives found at the site, the cell had planned several, possibly simultaneous, attacks in central Israel.
At least one of the cell members was believed to have arrived in Israel on forged documents via the safe-passage route between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Israeli and Palestinian security forces were conducting searches for suspects with possible links to the cell. The owner of the building used by the terrorists was released on bail last Friday after the judge determined that no evidence had been provided linking him to a terrorist group or indicating he helped bring Palestinians illegally into Israel.
Police roadblocks hindered commuter traffic Sunday morning around Tel Aviv and other urban areas. Security was also stepped up in bus stations and shopping centers.