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Chaos May Rule if Arafat Falls, Israeli Defense Officials Warn

August 8, 2001
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Israeli defense officials are advising the government to take steps to prevent the collapse of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s regime.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported Tuesday that officials are warning that the collapse of the Palestinian Authority could lead to chaos in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz portrayed several recent Palestinian statements as “SOS signals” from Arafat, but skeptics noted that Arafat frequently seeks to portray himself as weak to avoid having to carry out his obligations under peace deals and cease-fires, such as his responsibility to subdue Palestinian militants.

Ma’ariv also cited the assessment of government officials that Israel’s policy of targeting wanted Palestinians has placed great strain on Arafat, who fears he may also be singled out.

The paper said this was one of the reasons for Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s public assurance this week that Israel does not have its sights set on Arafat.

During the week, Arafat wrote to U.S. officials asking them to press Israel to stop its policy of targeting suspected Palestinian militants.

Sharon and his advisers say the policy — which they call “active self-defense” — is justified because it targets Palestinian militants before they can strike innocent Israeli civilians.

According to a Palestinian minister, the Palestinian Authority is losing its influence over Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movements because of the Israeli policy. Ziad Abu Ziad told Israel Radio that Israel’s policy is radicalizing the Palestinian street.

His comments came during a week of continued Israeli-Palestinian violence — including one attack in which a Palestinian terrorist reached the very heart of Tel Aviv.

On Sunday, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a busy street outside Israel’s Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, lightly wounding 10 people, most of them soldiers.

Witnesses said the gunman stopped his car at an intersection, opened the door and began firing — nonchalantly, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

When he drove on, police opened fire on the car, hitting the man in the head. He died of his wounds in hospital.

Later that night, Palestinian gunmen killed a pregnant Israeli woman, Tehiya Bloomberg, and seriously wounded her husband and daughter in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank. Two other children and another passenger were lightly injured.

Israel responded by firing missiles at Palestinian security posts in the West Bank. The buildings were severely damaged, but there were no injuries.

Police said the Tel Aviv gunman was a married father of three from eastern Jerusalem — not the standard background of a Palestinian terrorist.

Ben-Eliezer called the attack “grave,” but said military action is not the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The way to reach peace is not military, and I am prepared to meet with Yasser Arafat tomorrow morning,” he said.

The defense minister’s remarks came during a week marked more by clashes than by dialogue.

On Tuesday, an Israeli Arab in his 30s was killed in a shooting near the West Bank settlement Alfei Menashe. Security officials said the man, a resident of Taibe, was driving a car with yellow Israeli license plates, and it is possible the gunmen mistook him for a Jew.

Israel Radio reported it is possible the attack was carried out by the same Arab terror cell responsible for Sunday’s shooting that killed Tehiya Bloomberg.

Nationalistic motives also were not ruled out in the murder of an Israeli diamond merchant shot Monday night in Amman, Jordan.

The Jordanian information minister said the slaying of Yitzhak Snir could have been a “settling of scores among business associates.”

But Abu Dhabi television said a group calling itself the Islamic Jordanian Resistance Movement claimed responsibility, citing what it called Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians.

A senior official at Israel’s Foreign Ministry said all clues indicate that Snir’s murder was an act of terror, according to the Jerusalem Post.

In other violence this week, Israel on Sunday killed a Hamas member in what Palestinian witnesses said was a helicopter missile strike on his car in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.

Israel said Amar Madiri was preparing suicide attacks inside Israel.

Madiri was an assistant to Fuza Badran, a Hamas explosives expert killed last month in Tulkarm when his car exploded. The Palestinian Authority blamed Israel for Badran’s death, but Israel did not take responsibility for that incident.

Later in the day, Israel publicized the names of seven alleged terrorists it said the Palestinian Authority has refused to arrest. Many took it as a signal that these seven were next on Israel’s list for “targeted killings,” a policy that much of the world condemns simply as “assassination.”

Palestinians launched more than 50 mortar shells at settlements in Gaza last week, Israel Radio reported.

On Saturday, an aide to West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was wounded when Israeli helicopters fired on a convoy of cars near Ramallah.

Some Palestinian sources said Barghouti, leader of Fatah’s Tanzim militias, was in the convoy, while others said he was in his office at the time.

Israel security sources denied that Barghouti was the target, noting that his aide had been involved in numerous terror attacks during the past 10 months of violence. However, the sources did not rule out that the operation could serve as a warning to Barghouti.

Following the Israeli attack, Barghouti vowed that Israel would “pay for this new crime.”

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