By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service The militant Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the Thursday ambush killing of an Israel Defense Forces soldier near the West Bank flashpoint city of Jenin. The attack came hours before Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas addressed a tense session of the Palestinian Legislative Council, roiled by a deep political rift between Arafat and Abbas.
In the early morning incident, gunmen opened fire on a group of IDF infantry troops in the city, critically wounding one of them. The soldier, whose name has not been released for publication, received emergency treatment at the site of the shooting, but died en route to a hospital in Israel. There were no reports of other casualties. IDF troops mounted a search for the gunmen. A member of the Al-Aqsa Brigades said in a phone call to the Reuters news agency that its gunmen carried out the ambush, the latest incident in an upsurge of violence. Israel Radio later reported that the Islamic Jihad’s armed Al-Quds wing had also claimed responsibility. Palestinian militant groups called off a truce last month after Israel killed a Hamas leader in Gaza following a suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus in mid-August that left 21 dead. The early morning shooting was one of a number of attacks on IDF soldiers in the territories overnight. There were no inuries in the other incidents, which included the hurling of a bomb at an IDF force near the Nablus-area village of Jaba’a. Also Thursday, IDF forces in the West Bank arrested an Islamic Jihad activist said to have been planning to carry out a terrorist attack in next few days, Army Radio reported. IDF allows entry of 18,000 Palestinian workers Prior to the Thursday shooting, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon approved a range of confidence-building measures and steps aimed at easing the plight of the Palestinians. Among the measures approved was the entry into Israel of a total of 18,000 Palestinian workers, an unusually large number in the context of the three-year uprising, during which Israel sharply curtailed the number of entry permits that at one time had reached the tens of thousands. On Wednesday, 10,000 Palestinian workers and 1,000 merchants were allowed to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip. This was the first easing of entry restrictions since a total closure was clamped on the territories following the suicide bus bombing.