The Israeli army was expected to turn its focus to the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Tulkarm following an attack on a kibbutz that left five Israelis dead.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Monday visited Kibbutz Metzer, located inside Israel near the West Bank, and held consultations on Israel’s response to Sunday night’s attack. Mofaz met earlier in the day with heads of the security establishment.
A senior security source was quoted by Israeli media as saying the attack was considered very grave, and that Israel would respond soon.
The army reportedly had been planning a broad military operation against terrorist networks in the two West Bank cities towns even before the Metzer attack.
In light of the army’s recent military operation in Jenin, any anti-terror action appeared to be shaping up as a town-by-town effort.
Israeli troops scaled back their presence in Jenin over the weekend following a two-week operation that culminated in the killing Saturday of Iyad Sawalhe, an Islamic Jihad leader responsible for a series of terrorist attacks, including two bus bombings that left 31 Israelis dead.
The next intensive effort was expected to focus on the Al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, and a Hamas network in Nablus, reports said.
The Al-Aksa Brigade claimed responsibility for the Metzer attack and is considered to be behind several other attempted attacks in the area. The brigade said Sunday’s attack was in response to Israel’s killing of Sawalhe in Jenin.
The attack came as Fatah leaders were meeting with Hamas representatives in Cairo, seeking to persuade them to cease terror attacks at least inside Israel proper. Despite his group’s claim of responsibility, Arafat condemned the Metzer attack and said he was establishing a committee to investigate it.
Sunday’s attack occurred shortly before midnight, when at least one gunman crawled under the perimeter fence surrounding the kibbutz. Tirza Damari, a 42-year-old resident of Moshav Elyachin who was visiting the kibbutz, was shot and killed as she stood outside the communal dining hall.
The kibbutz secretary, Yitzhak Dori, 43, heard the shots and rushed to the scene, where he was killed in a hail of gunfire.
The terrorist then entered one of the houses on the kibbutz, killing Revital Ohayoun, 34, and her two small children, Matan, 5 and Noam, 4, in their bedroom.
Residents of the kibbutz were ordered to remain inside their homes until early Monday morning, as searches were carried out for the terrorist. He was believed to have escaped back to Palestinian Authority territory in the West Bank.
Ohayoun’s ex-husband, Avi, related that Revital had phoned him when the shooting on the kibbutz began, but then the line went dead.
Sitting in the house on Monday, Ohayoun clutched two pacifiers that belonged to his sons.
“They killed a child who had a pacifier,” he sobbed. “I’m 34 years old, I’m just a kid myself. I shouldn’t be” mourning “my two children, my entire family.”
Sunday’s attack targeted a kibbutz that had striven for Jewish-Arab coexistence in the 50 years since it was founded by members of the leftist Hashomer Hatzair movement.
The kibbutz developed a close relationship with the neighboring Arab village of Maisar, including a joint sports team and mutual visits.
Residents of the village came to Metzer on Monday to convey their condolences.
The kibbutz also strove to maintain good relations with Palestinians from the nearby West Bank. Most recently, kibbutz members had lobbied Israel’s defense establishment about a planned security fence separating Israel from Palestinian areas.
Kibbutz members urged that the fence be built along the contours of the pre-1967 border — traversing kibbutz lands – – instead of farther west, inside the West Bank.
Kibbutz residents had warned that going through Palestinian lands did not make sense from a security standpoint and could turn the nearby Palestinian village hostile.
“They deserve to support themselves and make a livelihood as much as we do,” one resident said.
Despite Sunday’s attack, kibbutz residents said they remained committed to coexistence.
“We still have good relations,” Metzer resident Doron Lieber said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.