IDF to clamp down on Palestinians cities, roads after attacks

The Israel Defense Forces are to clamp down tightly in the West Bank after three Israelis were killed and three others were wounded Sunday afternoon, one seriously, when Palestinians opened fire on a hitchhiking station at the Gush Etzion junction, south of Jerusalem. Shortly after the Gush Etzion attack, Palestinians opened fire again near the settlement of Eli, also in the West Bank, seriously wounding a 14-year-old Israeli boy. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz convened a meeting of high-level security officials on Sunday evening following the attacks. It was decided that IDF troops will redeploy around West Bank cities and limit Palestinian movement on main roads via checkpoints and other means. Exits from Bethlehem and Hebron will be blocked, Palestinian cars will be banned from main West Bank roads and arrests raids will be stepped up, officials said on condition of anonymity. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conducted a string of telephone conversations Sunday evening with Mofaz, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, to discuss how Israel would response to the attacks. „The Palestinians should know that what they won’t do [to stop attacks], we will,” said Mofaz before the meeting. Three young victims The victims of the Gush Etzion attack were identified as Kinneret Mendel and Matat Rosenfeld-Adler, 21-year-old cousins from the settlement of Carmel, and Oz Ben Meir, 15, from the settlement of Ma’on. The funerals for all three victims were to be held Monday morning in Jerusalem. The 14-year-old boy wounded during the attack in Eli was shot in his chest and liver. He was hospitalized in serious but stable condition. Government sources expressed fears that the attack represents the beginning of the deterioration in West Bank security, as armed groups attempt to shift the focus of terror to the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, from which Israel completed its disengagement last month. The sources added that the attacks would not pass without an Israeli response. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, affiliated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah movement, took responsibility for both of the attacks. IDF sources, however, raised doubt that Fatah was actually responsible for the attacks, saying initial reports thus far point to Hamas involvement. Gunmen flee into PA territory The Gush Etzion shooting was carried out by Palestinian gunmen traveling in a speeding car. The gunmen apparently escaped to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian Authority control. „A Palestinian passed by in a car, let off a burst of fire, and struck down people standing at the hitchhiking post,” Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader in Gush Etzion, told Israel Radio. Magen David Adom emergency rescue personnel rushed to the scene of the Gush Etzion attack from Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, Israel Radio reported. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the „tunnel road” between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion was closed to traffic. The Sunday attacks were the bloodiest assault in the West Bank since Israel completed its pullout from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank last month. Israeli security officials have warned that following the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants would shift their activities to the West Bank. While the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades declared responsibility for the Gush Etzion attack, an IDF source told Haaretz it was difficult to determine the validity of the announcement. He said Al-Aqsa had in the past claimed responsibility for West Bank attacks carried out by Hamas, sometimes to help Hamas cover up for attacks that clearly violated its promise to cease-fire, and other times in expectation of monetary support from the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. The source also told Haaretz that it was difficult to determine at this early point whether the two attacks in the West Bank were coordinated. A government source said he believed that any attacks at this stage are part of a campaign in the Palestinian street, where there is more legitimacy for such attacks, ahead of January’s elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council. David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, denounced the shooting. „As part of a series of humanitarian gestures, Israel removed roadblocks and eased up on the Palestinians,” he told Haaretz. „The Palestinians have nonetheless exploited these measures, which has led to these murderous attacks.” Israel has demanded the Palestinians dismantle militant groups if it wants to restart peace talks. „The Palestinian Authority has to move from the talking stage to the stage,” Mofaz said. „We will not be able to continue in this process if the Palestinian Authority does not start taking concrete actions against the terror groups.”