JERUSALEM , Aug. 15 (JTA) Despite continuing calls for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the spiral of Mideast violence, conflict intensified this week with increasingly strong Israeli retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
On Tuesday, Israeli tanks invaded the West Bank city of Jenin, under full Palestinian Authority control, and demolished a Palestinian police station before withdrawing. The army said the three-hour incursion was in retaliation for recent terrorist attacks in Israel including a bombing Sunday carried out by a Jenin man that injured 21 Israelis in a Haifa suburb.
The Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said Jenin had become a “city of bombers” loyal to Islamic Jihad.
The United States criticized the Israeli move, with a State Department source labeling it “provocative.”
Israeli media reports cited this criticism Wednesday when Israel abruptly postponed an operation aimed at stopping Palestinian gunfire from the village of Beit Jalla on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer denied that U.S. pressure or a request from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres delayed the action, saying instead that he acted after receiving intelligence information that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was making efforts to halt the shooting on Gilo.
But Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said he found it “difficult to believe” that the United States had not pressed Israel to refrain from sending troops into Beit Jalla.
In any case, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly told U.S. officials that Israel would invade Beit Jalla if Palestinian shooting, which lasted for six hours on Tuesday, resumed. Israeli troops remained poised close to Beit Jalla on Wednesday night.
“Whoever turns to terror will pay a diplomatic price,” Sharon told police commanders from around the country meeting in Jerusalem. “We conveyed this message with the closure of Orient House and institutions in East Jerusalem” after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 15 in downtown Jerusalem last week.
“If the violence continues, the Palestinians will lose other assets,” Sharon said.
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Sharon had “opened the gates of hell” with the incursion.
Early Palestinian reports that Israeli troops took with them about 70 Palestinians jailed for collaborating with Israel proved to be false.
Meanwhile, terrorism and counterterrorism operations continued.
Israeli undercover security forces killed a member of Arafat’s Fatah faction Wednesday in Hebron. Imad Abu Sneineh was suspected of involvement in shooting attacks.
Israel defends its policy of “targeted killings” of suspected Palestinian terrorists, but the international community condemns them as “assassinations.”
On Wednesday, an Israeli man was wounded by glass shards when Palestinian gunmen fired on his truck near the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, outside Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, an Israeli woman and her 2-year-old daughter were wounded in a Palestinian shooting attack near the West Bank city of Hebron.
A Palestinian man was killed Tuesday in an explosion in the West Bank city of Nablus. Medical workers said the man was killed while preparing a bomb.
In another incident Tuesday, an Israeli child was lightly wounded when Palestinian stone-throwers attacked his family’s car near the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday, according to Israel’s Army Radio.
A woman sustained moderate wounds while the child was lightly hurt.
On Monday, a Palestinian suspected of involvement in the murder three weeks ago of Jerusalem teen-ager Yuri Gushtchin was shot and fatally wounded by undercover Israeli police when they tried to arrest him.
According to details released for publication, Gushtchin had met up with four Palestinian acquaintances, who got him drunk and convinced him to come with them to Ramallah. There the four stabbed and shot him, then dumped the body in an area under Israeli control.
Israel’s Shin Bet also allowed for publication the news that Israel had arrested several Palestinian militants who planning to carry out a terrorist attack near Haifa.
The militants arrested last Friday were members of a suspected Islamic Jihad cell, according to details allowed for publication. Several Israeli Arabs also were arrested in connection with the incident.