Terrorist gunmen kill Israeli


JERUSALEM, March 19 (JTA) – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s offer to ease sanctions on the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been put to the test following a fatal terrorist shooting.

On Monday, Israel reimposed a blockade around the West Bank town of Bethlehem after an Israeli driver was shot and killed in the area.

The attack, which came days after Israel began loosening some restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza, coincided with the start of Sharon’s first official visit to Washington since taking office.

Before his departure, Sharon had warned that Israel would reimpose the restrictive measures if Palestinians renew their violence.

Finance Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday the Cabinet would meet upon Sharon’s return from the United States to reassess how to deal with the situation.

Shalom also told the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, that Israel has no intention of releasing tax revenues owed the Palestinian Authority.

Charging that Palestinian officials would use the revenues to fund terrorist operations against Israel, Shalom said Israel is using the money to fund its counter-terrorism activities.

In Monday’s drive-by shooting, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car driven by Efrat resident Baruch Cohen. Cohen, 58, lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a truck.

Brig. Gen. Benny Gantz, the Israel Defense Force commander in the West Bank, said the Palestinian gunmen later fled into Bethlehem, passing at least one Palestinian police checkpoint along the way.

“It is a shame to see that there is someone who exploits the IDF’s move toward easing the pressure around the Palestinian cities. It is even more of a shame to see that there is someone who is not preventing it,” he told Israel Radio.

Gantz also charged that Palestinian officials “know exactly who opened fire and who was involved.”

Cohen was a father of six. One of his children, Lt. Gen. Amnon Cohen, is IDF liaison officer in the Hebron area, Israel Radio reported.

Following the attack, the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, called on the IDF to immediately reinstate the blockade of Palestinian cities in the territories.

“The blockade proved itself as a means to significantly reduce terrorist attacks,” the council said. “The Sharon government was elected first and foremost to restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the attack cannot go without a response. In an address in Jerusalem, he also appealed to European and world leaders to condemn the violence.

In another escalation of the violence, Palestinian militants fired three mortar bombs from the Gaza Strip into Israel in what Israeli security forces described as a grave escalation of the conflict.

Sunday night’s attack marked the first time Palestinians in the area of the Gaza Strip had fired into Israel proper since the violence began nearly six months ago.

An Israeli reserve soldier was lightly wounded by the shells, which landed in an army base next to Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel could not tolerate such actions. “This is a Palestinian attempt to drag Israel into an escalation,” he said.

Recommended from JTA