Palestinian leader Abbas urges militants to hold fire
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday denounced a deadly Israeli arrest raid that killed five Palestinians, calling it an intentional provocation aimed at undermining a six-month cease-fire, but he urged militant groups to hold their fire, AP reported.
Militants vowed to renew attacks on Israel, a move that would undercut the good will that resulted from an Israeli pullout from 25 Jewish settlements in Gaza and part of the West Bank.
Following Tuesday's completion of the most important stage of the pullout ¡ª evacuating settlers ¡ª violence flared in three places.
A rocket fired from Lebanon exploded in an Israeli village just across the border Thursday, causing some damage but no casualties. Late Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank, killing five Palestinians, at least three of them armed. A few hours before that, a Palestinian stabbed two young Jewish men in the Old City of Jerusalem, killing one and seriously wounding the other.
Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, responded that the Palestinians have failed to control militants. "We have transferred authority over this city of Tulkarem and the surrounding villages to the Palestinian Authority, and over a period of about three months, no action has been taken," Gissin said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the department was still trying to get a clear picture of what happened in Tulkarem but stressed, "Israel has a right to defend itself."
"What is important is that ¡ª and especially at this time, where we have a withdrawal taking place in Gaza and the West Bank ¡ª that both sides refrain from actions that could inflame tensions that might exacerbate the situation and make the environment in which we do have the ability of trust and confidence more difficult," he added.
Islamic Jihad sent a suicide bomber into Tel Aviv in February and another into Netanya in July. Five Israelis were killed in each attack. The cell's leadership was traced to the Tulkarem area, and Israel has been hunting its members, claiming that even under the truce, it has the right to take defensive measures.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the arrest raid targeted those fugitives. "This was an operation against a 'ticking bomb,'" he told Israel TV. "They were planning a suicide bombing attack in Israel."
Palestinians said the Israelis opened fire first, and Mofaz did not deny that. "Weapons were drawn on the soldiers and gunfire resulted," he said.
According to Palestinian witnesses, young Palestinians were sitting outdoors, snacking on sunflower seeds and chatting with a well-known militant leader, when undercover Israeli troops jumped out of a Mercedes.
Witnesses said soldiers ordered everyone to stand up and shined a red laser at the group before opening fire. "A car came, and armed men got out and shot toward us. I was hit in the shoulder," said Samer Murai, 15. He said a gunfight followed, and several of his friends were wounded.
About 4,000 people attended a funeral for the five. Gunmen fired in the air, and many residents accused Israel of destroying the calm that prevailed during the Gaza pullout.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades vowed revenge.
"The Zionists should prepare ... bags to collect the remains of their soldiers and settlers because we are going to hit in the depths of the entity," said Abu Abdullah, an Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip.
Hours later, militants fired two homemade rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, the army said, the first such attack since Israel began its pullout from Gaza on August 15. There were no injuries or damage. A local militant group said the rocket fire was retaliation for the Tulkarem raid, Israel Radio reported.
After sunset, hundreds of Islamic Jihad militants marched in Gaza City and Khan Younis, pledging revenge.
At midday Thursday, a rocket fired from Lebanon exploded in Margaliot, an Israeli farming village on the border. The rocket damaged a chicken coop, but no one was hurt. Army Radio reported it was the first time such a rocket has been fired at an Israeli community since Israel ended its 18-year occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.
Israeli security officials have been warning that militant groups in Lebanon might try to heat up the border area during Israel's pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank.
The Jewish seminary student killed in the Jerusalem stabbing attack was buried Thursday. He was identified as Shmuel Matt, 21, a British citizen. A second student, Sammy Weissbard, 20, from New York, was wounded.