- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2000

JERUSALEM Israel bombed cities in the West Bank and Gaza after a Palestinian lynch mob beat to death and mutilated three Israeli soldiers, setting off the fiercest fighting since the 1967 Mideast war.
It was the first time since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gained control of parts of the West Bank and Gaza that Israel hit Palestinian targets, including the Arafat residential compound in Gaza.
Israeli helicopter gunships clattered overhead far into the night as the region braced for today, the Muslim Sabbath, which hard-line Palestinians declared a "day of rage" against Israel.
The level of yesterday's violence, following two weeks of clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, caught both sides off guard.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced that he was trying to form a "national emergency government" to include opposition leader Ariel Sharon and his right-wing Likud bloc.
President Clinton cleared his schedule last night to concentrate on the volatile situation, a White House spokeswoman said.
The president spoke to several leaders in the Middle East and was due to meet his Middle East peace team.
"I strongly condemn the murder of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah today. While I understand the anguish Palestinians feel over the losses they have suffered, there can be no possible justification for mob violence," he said.
"Now is the time to stop the bloodshed, to restore calm, to return to dialogue and ultimately to the negotiating table. I call on both sides to undertake a cease-fire immediately and immediately to condemn all acts of violence."
The day began on an optimistic note, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and CIA chief George Tenet trying to broker a truce.
But hopes for calm ended with the arrest at a Palestinian checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah of two Israeli army reservists who had gone astray on their way to military duty in the area.
Palestinian troops took the two to a police compound in Ramallah for questioning. Rumor spread quickly that the two were undercover soldiers on their way to a secret operation in a Palestinian-controlled area.
Hundreds of Palestinians returning from the funeral of a boy killed in clashes with Israelis made their way to the police station, forced their way in and killed the soldiers.
An Italian television camera crew shot the incident and circulated the video.
The scenes, some veiled, others graphic, showed Palestinians through an open window beating and stomping on unseen victims. Occasionally, one or more of the attackers approached the window with raised fists, drawing cheers from the Palestinian crowd below.
The footage showed the lifeless body of an Israeli soldier being thrown from the second-story window to the ground, where a mob pounded the corpse with clubs and other objects.
The attack, broadcast again and again on Israeli television, marked for Israelis the lowest moment in two weeks of violence.
"It's the most terrifying thing I've ever seen," said Shimon Mucha, 27, who works in a Jerusalem restaurant where the television was tuned to the news all afternoon. "I've never seen this kind of hatred. It's barbaric."
The body of the second soldier was dangled down by a rope, where the corpse was stomped and beaten with iron bars.
There was some confusion early in the day over the number of Israeli soldiers killed. The military at first said it had recovered two bodies, but Mr. Barak said in a television interview that three soldiers had been murdered and their bodies mutilated.
The killings prompted unprecedented Israeli missile attacks on Ramallah, Gaza City and later Jericho, where Palestinians wrecked a synagogue that they were assigned to protect under terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
One Israeli rocket struck 150 feet from Mr. Arafat's seaside residential headquarters in Gaza, with the Palestinian leader inside at the time, his aides said. Mr. Barak said Mr. Arafat himself was not a target.
Palestinian officials said the attack came shortly after Mr. Tenet, the CIA chief, met Mr. Arafat in Gaza to arrange a truce.
Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said the Israelis waited for Mr. Tenet to leave Gaza before they unleashed the rockets. However, U.S. officials in Washington said Mr. Tenet was en route to the meeting but canceled it when he was told it would not be safe.
No Palestinians were killed, but several were wounded in the attacks, which Israel described as a warning.
Israeli officials had given Palestinians notice and told them to evacuate targeted buildings, including police headquarters and security facilities, before the shooting began.
"The action today is a warning signal to the Palestinian Authority that it not to misinterpret Israel's restraint and desire for security and peace," Mr. Barak said.
Mr. Arafat responded defiantly, showing no remorse for the grim work of the lynch mob, saying on a visit to wounded people in Gaza's Shifa hospital that the Palestinian people would remain strong and "continue their march to Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian independent state."
At the United Nations, Palestinian representative Nasser Kidwa, showed no remorse, either, and demanded an urgent Security Council meeting.
"We believe that Israel, the occupying power, has taken military actions today tantamount to declaring an all-our war against the Palestinian people," he said.
Mr. Barak, facing reporters late yesterday, described the Palestinian assertion as "nonsense and propaganda." He described Mr. Sharon as a "deserving, serious man and definitely a very important partner for a national emergency government."
Bringing Mr. Sharon into the government will surely anger Arabs and even certain Israeli allies, who have condemned his Sept. 28 visit to a Jerusalem shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims. Under Israeli administration it has been open to both Jew and Muslim. Under Muslim administration, it was not.
Palestinians insisted that his visit had "defiled" the site, and the spasm of violence broke out soon after.
Mr. Barak accused the Palestinian Authority of freeing dozens of Islamic militants who are responsible for suicide bombings that have killed scores of Israelis. Security officials have warned of guerrilla attacks.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide