- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

QALQILYA, West Bank Members of an elite Israeli commando squad say they helped foil an attack on Israel's tallest building, prompting security chiefs to warn that the Palestinians may be planning a new round of attacks more destructive than anything seen to date.
The would-be attack, with obvious similarities to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center towers, was headed off shortly before a truckload of high explosives was to be driven to its target, commandos told The Washington Times yesterday.
A 29-year-old soldier who identified himself only as Sgt. Chagai said he had participated in the operation in Qalqilya about a week ago in which troops intercepted the truck and arrested the plotters.
"We are very proud and happy," said the blond, blue-eyed sergeant, one of three soldiers in an Israeli jeep barring entry to this encircled city. "We believe by stopping this attack we have saved many lives."
Israeli intelligence chiefs said recently they fear Palestinians are planning a new wave of terror on a scale that would dwarf the suicide bombings that prompted Israel's incursions into the West Bank last month.
Brig. Gen. Yehyiam Sasson, anti-terrorism adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, warned in a local newspaper last week that future "mega" attacks could go "far beyond" the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
"We are talking about attacks that could create a strategic change in the picture of terror," he said.
Qalqilya, stretching along the central backbone between Israel and the West Bank, marks the closest point in the West Bank to the Mediterranean Sea just 11 miles away. This has made it a launching pad for a number of suicide attacks and shooting sprees.
Members of the commando unit that broke up the bomb plot in the town a week ago were astonished to find the truck they intercepted was carrying more than half a ton of high explosives. Most Palestinian bombs are made from a crude but highly dangerous mixture of fertilizer and ammonia.
Papers found inside the truck reportedly showed that the target was the 50-story Azrieli Towers, the tallest commercial building in the Middle East.
"There was enough high explosives there to blow up several twin towers," said one Israel military source. "The plan was to drive the truck into the underground parking just as they did in the first World Trade Center plot of 1993."
At least two of the leaders of the planned attack were from the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second-largest grouping within the Palestine Liberation Organization after Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.
Ra'ad Nazel, 33, the area commander for the PFLP, was killed in the operation. At least one other PFLP commander was arrested and is said to be under intense interrogation.
Mr. Nazel is also believed to be behind a suicide bombing on Feb. 16 in which three youths were killed and more than 30 wounded. During the raid, troops also found a booby-trapped car containing a large amount of explosives.
"A very great disaster was recently averted due to some first-class achievements by the security forces," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said at the time, without giving details.
The Azrieli Towers have huge Israeli flags stretched up each side facing onto the country's major north-south highway. Its highly patriotic owner has also insisted on displaying a sign urging all Israelis to "unite" against terror.
Security at the parking entrances to the tower has been stepped up since the discovery, but Israel security chiefs believe that other methods of attack may be employed against that building or other targets like the Knesset, which sits on top of a hill in Jerusalem.
Authorities also suspect a test mission for an airborne attack on the Azrieli Towers may already have been carried out. A light aircraft was shot down last year as it headed south from the Lebanese border and ignored repeated messages and signals to turn back.
Israeli nervousness at the possible use of commercial airliners as al Qaeda-style flying bombs was revealed many years ago when an Egyptian passenger aircraft was shot down as it headed toward Israeli population centers across the Sinai Desert.
Israeli experts believe Mr. Arafat is looking for a dramatic way to prove that the Palestinians' will to fight has not been crushed by the severe blows his militants have faced since the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield.
Israel this week will show documents to President Bush that, if genuine, show Mr. Arafat's signature on documents providing pay for bomb makers.
The documents also purport to show that the Palestinian leader, in defiance of the Oslo Accords, approved purchases of bullets and of American-made M-16 submachine guns for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' fighting forces.


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