Israel Clamps Curfew on Ramallah, Angering Palestinians

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinian Authority is condemning an army curfew that Israel clamped on the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday, after the apparent kidnap of an Israel taxi driver.

Searches were continuing on Monday to locate Eliahu Gurel, 61, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. He disappeared on Friday evening after taking a fare to Jerusalem. His abandoned car was found a short time later near the Jerusalem Arab village of Beit Hanina with the engine running and his money and belongings inside. Police did not report any signs of a struggle.

Israel believes that a taxi driver who disappeared near Jerusalem on Friday was kidnapped by terrorists, and it is holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for his safe return.

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but officials believe that Gurel is being held in Ramallah by terrorists from PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

Israeli military sources on Monday confirmed that a curfew was imposed on the city at about 2:00 p.m. local time "due to operational activity."

The PA condemned the move, calling it an "Israeli incursion."

"Such a serious step would certainly leave a negative impact on the full implementation of the roadmap," the PA said.

It called on the U.S., European and international community to stop what it called "arbitrary Israeli measures that would lead the whole region back to the cycle of mutual violence," which it the PA said it "strongly" opposes.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Palestinian Authority security minister Mohammed Dahlan on Sunday to ask for his help in returning Gurel alive. Mofaz said he had "made clear to the Palestinians that the responsibility for his well-being lies with them."

PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas phoned Mofaz later and said that he would do all that he could to obtain Gurel's release.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had earlier threatened to kidnap Israelis if all Palestinian prisoners are not released from Israeli jails. But after Gurel's apparent kidnapping, both groups denied any responsibility for the abduction and said they were referring only to the kidnap of soldiers, not civilians.

Gurel called home on Saturday morning and said he was all right, but then the phone was disconnected. Later, his wife reported that a man with an Arabic accent had phoned and said Gurel would not be harmed. No ransom demands were made.

Earlier, security sources had feared that Gurel had been kidnapped to use as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners and detainees held in Israeli jails.

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