Militants Vow To Attack Israeli Diplomats Until Jordan Cuts Ties

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

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami has played down the shooting of an Israeli Embassy employee in Amman, Jordan - the second such incident in the past several weeks.

An Islamic group in Beirut claimed responsibility for the shooting of Shlomo Ratzabi on Monday evening as he and his wife left a supermarket in an upmarket neighborhood of the Jordanian capital. Ratzabi was shot in the leg and slightly wounded.

It was the second attack on an Israeli diplomat in Amman in less than a month. On November 19, the Israeli vice-consul was shot and wounded in the leg and arm as he left his home. Two groups not generally heard of before claimed responsibility for the attack, and vowed to keep up the pressure until Jordan severed diplomatic relations with Israel.

However, Ben-Ami downplayed the incident and expressed his confidence in the Jordanian government's concern over the situation and its ability to control it.

"I was in contact yesterday with the Jordanian Foreign Minister [Abdullah al-Katib] and I am really convinced that the Jordanians are very concerned over this situation," Ben-Ami said in a radio interview.

The Jordanian government will do what it needs to do and Israel is investigating the matter, Ben-Ami said. "But the cooperation with the Jordanians is full and there is really [honest] concern on their side."

Al-Khatib, who visited Ratzabi in hospital, issued a brief statement calling the shooting a "totally unacceptable act."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it may withdraw the families of Israeli embassy staff in Jordan temporarily due to the incident.

Israel is considering the situation now and whatever moves it makes will be in coordination with the Jordanian government, spokesman Noam Katz said.

There is a "possibility that the families will be brought here to relax," Katz said, adding nothing as "dramatic" as an "evacuation" was being planned.

Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, but strong anti-Israel sentiment remains. During the last two months of Israeli-Palestinian clashes, that feeling has boiled over into street protests. Some 60 percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian.

There are certain "streams" that have sought to strengthen their own causes during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to pressure their own governments to take action, Ben Ami said of popular protests in the Arab world.

Demonstrators have called on their governments to cut ties with Israel - or in some cases, to declare war.

"It's good that Jordan and Egypt are standing in the gap," Ben-Ami added.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel. Although they have condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians and stood staunchly on the side of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, they have sought to tone down Arab rhetoric against the Jewish state.

Nonetheless, Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel last month and said he would only return after the situation on the ground had calmed. Jordan, which had scheduled a routine change of ambassador, decided not to send its new envoy until the trouble is resolved.

Gun-toting peace partner

Reports from the disputed territories say that Palestinians are viewing Arafat's arrival in the Gaza Strip Monday while he carried a machine gun as an encouragement to follow suit.

It was the first time Arafat was seen in public carrying such a weapon since he arrived in Gaza from exile in 1994, after Israel and the PLO signed an interim peace agreement paving the way for his return.

Shooting attacks continued overnight on Israeli outposts and communities in the disputed territories. A roadside bomb also exploded near a bus on a road bypassing PA-controlled Jericho, but caused no injuries.

The Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo once again came under attack from Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala. Israel returned machine gun fire at the source and fired one missile, according to an army statement.

The Israeli army announced that it was tightening security around its Chief of Staff, Lt.-General Shaul Mofaz after he received death threats. Among other precautions, Mofaz will now travel in an armored car.