Jerusalem Mayor: Arafat Using Christian Village To Launch Attacks

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinian Authority selected a Christian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem as a launching pad for attacks on Israeli civilians in order to exploit the expected Israeli response for propaganda purposes in the Christian world, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert charged on Tuesday.

Beit Jalla, a heavily Christian-populated Arab town alongside Bethlehem, has been the source of automatic gunfire attacks on the nearby Jerusalem suburb of Gilo over the past 10 days.

Bullets have struck about 24 homes in five separate attacks, many times narrowly missing the inhabitants.

In response, Israel has directed what it considers a "restrained" response at the source of the fire, sending two tank shells into the area Monday evening after warning residents of the town that a counter-strike was imminent.

"Beit Jalla was very carefully chosen by the PA [because it is] a mostly Christian village," Olmert told reporters.

The PA hoped that Israel would strike a "massive blow" against institutions, factories and homes there so the PA could then use those attacks to stir up anti-Israeli sentiment in the Christian world.

Footage of the Israeli strikes has shown ruined rooms with crucifixes still affixed to the walls.

Olmert said those participating in the initial attacks are not, for the most part, from Beit Jalla itself but were gunmen who commandeered homes, schools and businesses there to attack Jerusalem and draw Israeli fire.

Beit Jalla, which was transferred to full Palestinian control during the first wave of Israeli land handovers five years ago, has continued to have good relations with the neighborhood of Gilo. The two areas share similar names: Gilo and Jalla mean "joy" in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.

Until the last month, residents of Beit Jalla were welcome to use the Gilo community's gym, swimming pool and other facilities.

Olmert said he had good relations with the Christian former mayor of Bethlehem, the late Elias Friej. However, attempts to establish a relationship with the new Palestinian mayor of Bethlehem and Beit Jalla had gone unanswered.

"I have no war with the civilians living in Beit Jalla," Olmert said, but warned that Israel would not tolerate attacks on its capital's citizens.

If they didn't stop, he said, Israel would take "more severe measures" to ensure they did.

"If the Palestinians won't stop, then we will have to stop it. It will cost them dearly," Olmert said.