Six Killed in West Bank, Jerusalem
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One day after Israel completed the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza and four isolated West Bank settlements, violence left six people dead. NPR's Mike Shuster reports.
MIKE SHUSTER reporting:
The violence in the West Bank came as a result of an Israeli undercover operation. A squad of undercover special forces arrived last night at a cafe in the Tulkarem refugee camp on a tip that several members of Islamic Jihad wanted in connection with two suicide bombing operations were there. The soldiers fired a warning shot, demanded that the men surrender, and a gun battle erupted. Four Palestinians were killed on the spot. One was wounded and died later at a nearby hospital.
An Israeli army spokesman said that all of the Palestinians who were killed were armed and suspected militants. Among the dead was Audo Abu Khalil(ph), a leader of Islamic Jihad on the West Bank, who was suspected of planning the two most recent suicide bombings: at the Stage night club in Tel Aviv last February and in the Israeli city of Netanya in July. But Palestinian witnesses said three of the dead were unarmed teen-agers, not members of any Palestinian resistance organization.
Earlier, two Orthodox Jewish students were walking in an Arab market in the old city of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate when they were stabbed by someone using a kitchen knife. The assailant fled. One of the students, who came from Great Britain, died. The second, an American, was wounded but survived. It was the first such attack in the old city in three years.
These incidents occurred just a day after Israel completed the removal of more than 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and several isolated West Bank settlements. Israeli government leaders have expressed the hope that the Gaza pullout, which was a unilateral move on Israel's part, will prompt the Palestinian Authority to disarm militant groups and lead to new peace negotiations. The leaders of the Palestinian armed factions say their resistance will not end as long as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land on the West Bank.
The period before and during the Gaza withdrawal was relatively free of violence. There were sporadic, but isolated, Palestinian rocket attacks inside Gaza with only a minimal response from the Israeli army. The Palestinian Authority appealed to the militant factions to let the withdrawal take place peacefully. During the same period, two Jewish gunmen killed eight innocent Arabs in two separate attacks, one inside Israel and one on the West Bank. It remains to be seen now whether the calm that has prevailed will continue or whether incidents like those of the past night will lead to increased violence.
Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.