Arafat Accuses Israel of 'Assassinating' Palestinian Policemen

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned Israel on Monday for the killing of five Palestinian policemen and overnight attacks on the Gaza Strip, while in New York, his representative registered an official complaint with the U.N. Security Council.

Early reports indicated that the five Palestinian Authority security officers were killed in the disputed West Bank during an exchange of gunfire with Israeli soldiers.

But Arafat claimed four of the five policemen had been sleeping when shot by the Israelis and that incident constituted an "assassination."

The policemen apparently were part of a unit that cooperated with Israeli troops at a nearby military checkpoint.

"This group was operating a checkpoint dealing with the Israeli side in all matters," Arafat told reporters in the Gaza Strip after a meeting with a European Union envoy. "They surprised them while four of them were asleep and assassinated them.

'Israel will be harshly judged'

"It was a dirty, immoral operation and not a military one ... Israel must know that it will be harshly judged over this crime."

PA officials said five members of the Palestinian National Forces were found shot to death. An ambulance attendant said the bodies were found piled in a hole.

All the Israeli army spokesmen would say was that during "an initiated activity" by Israeli troops, they "identified several suspicious figures and opened fire toward them. Apparently some of them were hit."

The spokesman's office said exactly what happened was still being clarified, but that the force must have felt threatened to have opened fire.

PA cabinet minister Nabil Amr called the killings a massacre by a "government of murderers" and in a Palestinian radio interview repeated the demand for international protection forces.

Meanwhile, Arafat advisor Nabil Abu-Rudeineh said the Palestinian representative at the U.N., Nasser el-Kidwa, has called for an emergency Security Council session to discuss the escalation of violence.

Hours earlier, Israeli helicopters bombarded PA targets in the Gaza Strip.

PA Public Security Chief Abdel-Razek al-Majaydeh accused Israel of "an unprovoked attack" after Israeli helicopters and naval vessels off the coast attacked PA targets in the Gaza Strip overnight. Three PA policemen were reportedly wounded.

Helicopters attacked PA armored personnel carriers in the northern part of the Gaza Strip while Navy ships bombarded a PA Naval Police observation outpost in the central part of the Strip.

The action was taken "following the continuing Palestinian terrorism, and the increase of violence in the past few days," the army said.

It would "continue to act firmly against terrorists and their launchers who hurt both the Israeli population and the Palestinian population."

Four Israeli civilians were lightly wounded when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo Monday afternoon. Israeli security forces returned fire at the source of the sporadic shooting from nearby PA-controlled Beit Jala.

Earlier, two Israelis were shot and wounded in separate shooting incidents in the West Bank when their vehicles came under fire.

In the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, police found and detonated a large bomb that had been planted near a bus stop and timed to explode during the morning rush hour.

The escalation comes on the eve of the day Palestinians commemorate what they call the Naqba (catastrophe) - the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Northern front

Israel was looking at the possibility of hostilities on another front on Monday. A number of anti-tank missiles were fired at an army position along the northern border in an area that is still disputed with Lebanon, known as the Shebaa Farms.

There were no injuries but some damage was caused, the army said. Israel withdrew its soldiers a year ago from a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, according to a U.N. resolution and along an internationally agreed upon boundary.

The U.N. upheld Israel's position that it did not need to relinquish the small Shebaa Farms area because it previously belonged to Syria, not Lebanon. But the militant Hizballah organization, which filled the vacuum left by Israel in southern Lebanon, has vowed to fight until Israel leaves that enclave.