IDF fears escalation after five killed in Tul Karm

The Israel Defense Forces fears that violence might escalate in the coming weeks following the army’s killing of five Palestinians in Tul Karm Wednesday night. On Thursday, rockets were fired at both Sderot in the south and Moshav Margaliot in the north, though neither caused any casualties. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas slammed the killings in Tul Karm and accused Israel of causing a deliberate provocation in order to undermine his efforts to maintain calm. „This behavior is disastrous for the security lull that was achieved with great effort, and it will provoke harsh responses that will endanger continued dialogue,” he warned. Also on Thursday, the United States called on Israel and the Palestinians to show restraint in the wake of the killings. „We always denounce any violence and we urge both sides to exercise calm,” said White House spokesman Trent Duffy, speaking from Crawford, Texas, where President George W. Bush is vacationing. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said both sides should „refrain from actions that could inflame tensions.” He said the U.S. is trying to determine what happened in Tul Karm. „As we have said before, Israel has a right to defend itself,” he said. Hamas, Islamic Jihad promise revenge Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both threatened to avenge the Tul Karm deaths, and the IDF takes these threats seriously. It fears that Hamas may also believe the time has come to avenge two recent Jewish terror attacks that killed eight Arabs. Hamas did not respond to these attacks immediately, to avoid disrupting the disengagement. Now, however, all Israeli civilians have left the Gaza Strip, but soldiers will remain there for about another three weeks, providing an ideal target. The Tul Karm incident occurred at about 11 P.M. on Wednesday, when an undercover force entered the city’s refugee camp to arrest Adel Al-Gawi, 26, a key Islamic Jihad activist. Colonel Roni Numa, who commanded the operation, said that when the soldiers reached the house where Al-Gawi was staying, he saw someone trying to flee, whereupon the soldiers fired in the air. Palestinians then opened fire at the soldiers with pistols from the courtyard of the house, while others opened fire from a distance and also hurled a bomb and Molotov cocktails. The soldiers consequently returned fire, killing four Palestinians, including Al-Gawi, and mortally wounding a fifth, 17-year-old Mohammed Othman. Othman was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment, but died a few hours later. The other casualties were Majdi Atiya, 20, Anas Abu Zeina, 16, and Mahmoud Ahadib, 18. None of the soldiers were hurt, and additional troops were sent in to cover their withdrawal. Numa said the exchange of fire lasted 10 to 15 minutes. According to the Shin Bet security service, Al-Gawi was involved in planning two suicide bombings this year, at the Stage Club in Tel Aviv and the Sharon Mall in Netanya, which together killed 10 Israelis. Atiya was a Fatah operative who specialized in bomb-making, it added, while Abu Zeina worked with wanted Palestinians who take orders from Hezbollah. According to Numa, the other two casualties „were also not innocent bystanders.” The Palestinians denied the allegation regarding Abu Zeina. Numa stressed that the incident was not an assassination, but an arrest operation that went wrong. He added that the IDF would continue hunting down Islamic Jihad activists, as this organization is still actively trying to commit terror attacks. Security sources told Haaretz that the operation was carried out because the defense establishment recently received a detailed warning about plans by an Islamic Jihad cell in the northern West Bank to send a suicide bomber into Israel in the coming days. But other senior officers criticized the operation’s timing, saying that the decision-makers gave insufficient consideration to the delicate state of affairs vis-a-vis the Palestinians. „The fact is that when the five were killed, the terrorist organizations seized this excuse to heat up both the Gaza border and the northern border,” said one. There were also flaws in the operation’s planning, the officers said: The force that entered the refugee camp was too small, and therefore found itself in an inferior position when the Palestinians opened fire and shot to kill in order to rescue themselves. They added that they doubted that the goal, Al-Gawi’s arrest, justified the consequences. Both the Palestinians and Hezbollah responded quickly. At 11 A.M. yesterday, either Hezbollah or one of the Palestinian organizations that operates under its auspices fired a rocket from Lebanon at Moshav Margaliot and hit a chicken coop. Lebanese officials said that a second rocket was also fired, but landed in Lebanon. Hezbollah had promised not to disrupt the disengagement, but with the evacuation over, security sources said, it may have been looking for an excuse to resume hostile operations. The Tul Karm incident provided one. Less than 90 minutes after the rocket hit Margaliot, two rockets were fired at Sderot from Gaza – the first Qassam attacks on Israel in about six weeks. One landed in a residential neighborhood of Sderot, but caused no damage. The other fell in Palestinian territory. The IDF believes that the rockets were probably fired by the Popular Resistance Committees, with the goal of creating a „balance of terror” under which it will respond from Gaza to any attack on its people in the West Bank. Nevertheless, the IDF’s Southern Command remains hopeful that the recent calm in Gaza will hold, since following the disengagement, the PA has an interest in restraining attacks from Gaza to prove that it can control the territory. All five slain Palestinians were buried in the Tul Karm refugee camp yesterday. Numerous armed men from all the terrorist organizations, as well as senior PA security officials and the city’s governor, attended the funerals. BPI-info