Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - In the wake of the assassination of Israel's tourism minister, the U.S. is backing Israel's tough demands of the PA, according to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
Israel delivered an ultimatum to the Palestinian Authority similar to that the U.S. delivered to the Taliban: turn over the assassins of Rehavam Ze'evy or be considered an entity that harbors terrorists.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian claimed responsibility for the killing of Ze'evy, who was gunned down in a Jerusalem hotel on Wednesday. The PFLP said the attack was in revenge for the downing of its leader Ali Abi Mustafa in an Israeli helicopter missile attack on his office in August.
The group, which rejects a negotiated settlement with Israel, threatened on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would be its next target. In a statement from Jordan, the group said it would continue to attempt to take the lives of Israeli politicians after Wednesday's success.
It is both "right and proper" for the Israeli government to demand action from the PA, Kurtzer said.
"Every country has a right of self-defense," he said in a local television interview on Thursday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Arafat after the killing and told him the U.S. expected to see a "strong and determined" effort against the terrorism, Kurtzer said. "We expect to see the PFLP closed down."
Saying that the murder of Ze'evy had crossed "all red lines," the Israeli Cabinet repeated Sharon's earlier words that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and the PA.
"Israel demands the extradition of those responsible for [Wednesday's] assassination, and expects this to be carried out immediately," a communique said.
It also demanded the disarming and dismantling of terrorist organizations operating out of PA areas.
"Failure to meet these demands, which are grounded in signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, will leave us with no choice but to view the Palestinian Authority as an entity supporting and sponsoring terror, and to act accordingly," it said.
The implication was that should the PA fail to produce the terrorists, Israel would be free to act against it as the U.S. is against the ruling Taliban militia in Afghanistan, which is accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, wanted for the September 11 terror attacks in Washington and New York.
The PA promptly rejected Israel's demands.
"We reject any ultimatum," PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.
There was no time limit put on the Israeli demands, but senior officials were quoted as saying that the PA had one week to comply.
The assassination of Ze'evy seemed set to scuttle a truce agreement between Israel and the PA, which the U.S. sees as necessary to keep Arab and Muslim states satisfied with its war on terrorism.
Two days before he was killed, Ze'evy had submitted his resignation to the government over the cabinet's decision to ease restrictions on the Palestinians as part of the agreement. He was killed just hours before it was due to take effect.
Israel reversed its easing of restrictions as a result of his murder.
One of the most senior Palestinians on Israel's most wanted list was killed in a car bomb explosion close to Bethlehem on Thursday.
Palestinian sources accused Israel of carrying out another targeted killing. Two other militants belonging to Arafat's Fatah faction were also killed in the blast.
The Israeli army refused to comment on the incident. Abayat was accused of carrying out numerous shooting attacks on Israelis.
Shortly after the explosion, shooting on the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo resumed for the first time since Israel and the PA reached a truce in the area after Israel moved into the area with troops and tanks.
Early Thursday morning, Israeli tanks and troops took over positions in PA-controlled areas in Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin.
Palestinian sources reported that an 11-year-old girl was killed and several others wounded in exchanges of fire in Jenin. Two PA policemen were reported killed in exchanges of fire in Ramallah.
"In Jenin there is a wide infrastructure of terrorist organizations that send terrorists to carry out attacks in both the West Bank and within the state of Israel," an army spokesman said in a statement.
The army will "operate as required in order to protect the security of Israeli citizens and soldiers," he added.
Washington has been walking a thin line between Israel and the PA. President Bush surprised Israeli officials several weeks ago when he said the U.S. supported the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Buoyed by the comments Arafat traveled to Europe, where he received similar endorsements from Britain and Holland.
Critics in Israel said the statements would seem like a reward to Arafat for 13 months of violence and terrorism and would only encourage him not to crack down on terrorists.