Israeli kidnapped in West Bank, then freed


JERUSALEM, March 25 (JTA) — David Haim was lucky to live up to his last name — which means “life” in Hebrew — after venturing into the Palestinian city of Tulkarm for lunch.

Two months ago, two restaurant owners from Tel Aviv were kidnapped and murdered when they went to Tulkarm to purchase flower pots.

But on Sunday, Haim was released unharmed after Palestinian security officials rescued him from militia members who had taken him captive.

A 25-year-old Haifa resident, Haim had gone to the West Bank city earlier in the day with three Israeli Arabs and was eating in a restaurant when armed Palestinians kidnapped him. The Israeli Arabs were released.

Alerted to the abduction, Palestinian Authority officials located the kidnappers and arranged for Haim’s release.

Haim said he was “treated well” by both his abductors and the P.A. officials who rescued him.

Israeli police said charges would be brought against Haim for violating a ban on Israelis entering areas under Palestinian control.

Israeli security sources were quoted as saying that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat had order Haim’s release.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office praised the P.A. response, saying it indicated an interest in preventing an escalation of the last six months of violence.

Despite the rare instance of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, however, Israeli troops and armed Palestinians clashed on Sunday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, Palestinian gunmen seriously wounded a Jewish settler in a drive-by shooting near Nablus.

In Gaza, five grenades were thrown at Israeli soldiers stationed near the border with Egypt. The soldiers returned fire, but no injuries were reported.

In another incident Sunday, Palestinian gunfire hit a synagogue in the settlement of Neveh Dekalim in the southern Gaza Strip.

Over the weekend, at least 12 Palestinians were wounded in clashes.

Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told the Cabinet on Sunday that violence had dropped in the West Bank in the past week but increased in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Force said it is stepping up security measures around Israeli communities bordering the West Bank and Gaza as Palestinians try to push the conflict into Israel proper.

The statement followed last week’s Palestinian shelling of an IDF base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, located inside Israel near the Gaza border.

On Sunday, Ben-Eliezer approved measures to ease restrictions on Palestinians.

Reports said Ben-Eliezer approved permits to allow hundreds of Palestinian workers into Israel. The workers, who must be at least 40 and married, were approved to do harvesting work.

Sharon has said he opposes collective punishment of the Palestinian population and would work to ease civilians’ hardships, while fighting those who order and carry out attacks on Israel.

Sharon met Sunday with the U.S.-led Mitchell Committee probing the causes of the six-month-old violence in the region.

Before the meeting, Sharon said he would tell the committee that his visit last September to the Temple Mount did not cause the violence, but only provided Palestinians with a pretext to launch a pre-planned campaign of violence.

The head of the committee, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, said earlier Sunday the fact-finding commission is “not a tribunal. We do not believe that anyone is on trial.”

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