Amid New Attacks, Israeli Government Ponders 'Arafat' Question

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened a meeting of his inner security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the latest wave of terror attacks that have left six Israelis dead and scores more wounded in less than two days.

Four Israelis, three of them teenagers, were killed on Tuesday evening in two separate shooting attacks. Those attacks came one day after a grandmother and her 18-month-old granddaughter were killed by a suicide bomber at a cafe in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva.

The recent Israeli military operation to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian Authority-controlled cities on the West Bank and continuing brief military incursions into those cities has not managed to put a halt to the attacks.

The prime minister's office would not comment on the security cabinet meeting, but according to reports, the meeting ended inconclusively. The disagreement centered on the fate of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, radio reports said.

Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz wants Israel to expel Arafat, while Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is against the idea. Sharon reportedly told Mofaz that he (Mofaz) was responsible for the army only, and therefore should not get involved in political matters.

Sharon said discussion over Israel's response would continue next week. In the meantime, there will be no limits on Israeli army operations in PA territory, Sharon was quoted as saying.

Israeli troops continued their military incursions in the West Bank towns of Kalkilya and Bethlehem on Wednesday. They also made sporadic forays into Tulkarem.

Residents in those areas were bound by a tight curfew that kept them indoors. As a result, they were unable to work, shop or send their children to school.

Israel has arrested more than a dozen wanted militants in military raids into PA-controlled cities over the last few days.

3 Teens Among 4 Israeli Dead

The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which is associated with Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for two separate shootings Tuesday evening, in which four Israelis were killed and three other civilians were injured.

The PA has condemned the recent spate of terror attacks. Arafat earlier called for a halt to violent acts against Israelis because he said it is hurting the Palestinian cause.

Gilad Stiglitz, 14, Avraham Siton, 17, Natanel Riachi, 17, were gunned down as they played basketball. The killer was a Palestinian terrorist who infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Itamar, near PA-controlled Nablus.

Several hours earlier, Albert Maloul, 50, was shot and killed as he traveled on a road bypassing PA-controlled Ramallah. He was on his way home from work to Jerusalem. His cousin Herzl Maloul was lightly injured in the attack.

The teens attended a religious boarding school for boys in the Itamar community, which was protected by an electric fence, reports said. The terrorist succeeded in cutting through the fence and managed to make his way into the settlement, where he killed the youths before guards killed him.

Elhanan Amar was with Siton and Riahi at the time of the attack but the gunman apparently didn't see him.

"The three of us were together and we heard the shots behind us," Amar said in a radio interview in Hebrew.

"They turned left in the direction of the Yeshiva [religious school] and I continued straight. I laid down on the floor. I saw him shoot at them, really 15 seconds without stopping... I said the Psalms during this time.

"Afterwards I saw the terrorist escape. I took off my white shirt and ran toward the center of the Itamar," he said.

Rabbi Ya'acov Idel, who works at the school, said the incident could have been much worse if the terrorist had not been shot dead. Nevertheless, the rabbi said the students have a sense of purpose in being there, even though they knew it was dangerous.

"The students are very strong," Idel said in a radio interview. The central thing that I say to them is that...they are doing the most right thing there is in all the world. We don't have a place to escape to. If it [an attack] is not here, it will be in another place, to our dismay."

Itamar, a settlement of some 100 families and about 300 students, is in the disputed West Bank, an area in Judea and Samaria, which many Israelis consider to be their biblical inheritance.

The Palestinians are demanding that communities like Itamar and those where more than 200,000 Israelis live be evacuated as a condition for any Israeli-PA peace agreement.

According to Ezra Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Yesha council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza, the area of Itamar is where the biblical patriarch Abraham lived.

'Israeli army retreated too soon'

Rosenfeld said the attacks on Tuesday highlighted the fact that the Israeli army ended its military operation "Defensive Shield" too soon.

"It was a colossal mistake to terminate Defensive Shield before it was finished, and we're paying the price for it now," Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld believes it is only a matter of time before the Israeli government launches another operation like Defensive Shield. The government and the world must realize that this is a "wholesale war" against terrorism that must not be fought piecemeal a little at a time but from beginning to end.

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