Security deal at risk after Israeli commandos kill brother of imprisoned Palestinian leader
By Phil Reeves in Jerusalem
21 August 2002
Israeli commandos shot dead the brother of the leader of a radical Palestinian faction yesterday, stoking anger in the West Bank less than a day after setting out on a new security accord which was supposed to create calm.
Israeli special forces killed Mohammed Sa'adat, 23, at his house in Ramallah, dealing a blow to the already poor survival chances of the new accord. The man's brother, Ahmed Sa'adat, is the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who is being held in one of Yasser Arafat's jails supervised by British and American wardens.
The killing is likely to trigger more bloodshed because the PFLP has a reputation of avenging Israeli attacks. When Israel assassinated its leader last year, the group responded by gunning down an Israeli cabinet minister, bringing the conflict to new crisis point.
Ahmed Sa'adat has been held in custody since May as part of a British-brokered deal that led to the end of a 34-day siege of Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters. That deal is under fresh strain.
The raid, by an Israeli "Duvdevan" squad, a unit often used for undercover assassinations, appears to have been an attempt to arrest Mr Sa'adat which went wrong. Israeli officials said it was meant to be a routine arrest but their soldiers came under fire and two of them were injured. The Palestinian died from two bullets in the stomach.
It came on a day in which the first steps of the new agreement were hardly in place before violence from both sides threatened to engulf it. By nightfall, the death toll stood at four, including a teenage Israeli soldier and a teenage Arab boy.
The day began with the appearance of uniformed Palestinian security forces on the conflict-battered streets of Bethlehem for the first time in weeks after Israel's army pulled out overnight. This was the first stage in the accord, which provides for a gradual Israeli pull-back from Palestinian areas of the West Bank it seized earlier this summer and an easing of economic restrctions, as long as there is an end to Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
It was in trouble within hours. The withdrawal from Bethlehem was swiftly followed by a fresh Israeli military incursion into the West Bank town of Tulkarm and its refugee camp. Troops shot dead a Palestinian they said was armed.
Palestinian officials expressed anger about Israel's conduct, especially after the killing of Mr Sa'adat. "We are committed to this accord, but Israel ... is increasing animosity amongst Palestinians, and provoking retaliation," Mohammed Aissa, police commander in the Bethlehem district said.
The agreement's chances of success were already being undermined by strong opposition from extremists on both sides. All the major Palestinian militias in the Gaza Strip rejected it outright, accusing the Palestinian leadership of capitulating by entering a deal without securing any political progress towards the intifada's central goal, ending the Israeli opposition.
The military wing of the Islamic-nationalist Hamas movement immediately underscored its opposition to the accord by killing a 19-year-old Israeli soldier who was guarding a Jewish settlement in the central Gaza Strip. Shortly afterwards, the Palestinians said a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli troops during a firefight in the same area. Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said he was shot in the head. The Israeli army said it knew nothing of the incident.
The Israeli hard right also opposes the accord, which it sees as an unacceptable concession to an enemy. The leader of the small National Religious Party, Effi Eitam, threatened to respond by pulling his party out of Ariel Sharon's coalition government.
In June, after a resumption of suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Israeli forces took control of seven of the eight main Palestinian towns, returning in most cases to streets in which their tanks and armoured vehicles had been deployed in April during the largest Israeli military offensive for two decades. The towns have been sealed off and placed under repeated curfew, deepening economic hardship that has been worsening steadily since the early days of the intifada.