More Deaths as Israel Tells Palestinians: Heed Iraq
By Michele Gershberg
JERUSALEM (Reuters - 10 April) - Palestinian gunmen killed two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and an Israeli missile strike killed a senior militant in Gaza on Thursday in a fresh surge of violence ahead of an anticipated U.S.-led peace drive.
Israel said it hoped the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) would teach the Palestinians the lesson that they must abandon their uprising for independence. But militant groups said they would not be cowed by the U.S. conquest of Baghdad.
The army said that in Thursday's pre-dawn attack in the West Bank, gunmen had cut through a fence surrounding an army base in the Jordan Valley and opened fire at a tent housing soldiers, killing two of them and wounding nine.
Troops shot dead one gunman on the spot and the second was killed in a chase.
Israeli helicopter gunships fired two missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing leading Islamic Jihad militant Mahmoud al-Zatma and injuring 10 people, Palestinian security sources and medics said.
Violence in a 30-month-old Palestinian uprising for independence had tapered off since Iraq (news - web sites) war began on March 20, but fighting has been on the rise this week. Israeli strikes and raids have killed 13 Palestinians in Gaza in three days.
"WORLD HAS CHANGED"
"I hope that in the era after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, the Palestinians will understand that the world has changed," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told reporters.
He said Palestinians must "give the chance for a new and authentic leadership to grow, end terror and incitement and return to the negotiating table."
The new bloodshed runs counter to Washington's calls for calm before it introduces a long-delayed program for Middle East peacemaking in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the killings in Gaza and Tulkarm and accused Israel of trying to sabotage U.S. plans to promote peace.
Islamic Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi accused Israel of trying to exploit the Iraq war to crush the uprising.
"The result of this new assassination will be resistance and response," he told Reuters in Gaza.
An anonymous caller to Reuters claimed responsibility for the West Bank attack in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s Fatah (news - web sites) faction.
Palestinian security sources and medics said al-Zatma was an Islamic Jihad commander who had been wanted by Israel for involvement in a number of suicide bombings. The army had no immediate comment on the report of his killing.
In the West Bank town of Tulkarm, an Israeli unit on a raid exchanged fire with a group of Palestinian gunmen on Thursday, killing one of the Palestinians and wounding four others, an Israeli military source said.
Palestinian witnesses said undercover soldiers had fired on a vehicle in the town's center, hitting its three passengers and a bystander. They said the dead man was a member of Al-Aqsa.
Bush has said he will present a peace "road map" leading to a Palestinian state by 2005, once Palestinian lawmakers confirm a new reformist cabinet under prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas, a leading moderate.
On Wednesday, Arafat gave Abbas two more weeks to form a cabinet amid signs of disputes over the reform of Palestinian security services to curb violence.
At least 1,987 Palestinians and 729 Israelis have been killed since the uprising flared in September 2000 after negotiations on a Palestinian state froze.