- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

HEBRON, West Bank Israeli soldiers retook this divided city yesterday, imposed a curfew and herded dozens of blindfolded Palestinians into buses in a first response to a Palestinian ambush that killed 12 members of the security forces lured into a dead-end alley.
Israel's retaliation was expected to focus on Hebron itself, with troops staying to crush militias. An adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said there was no plan to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as several Cabinet members demanded.
Friday night's ambush by the Islamic Jihad group heightened tensions in Hebron, home to 130,000 Palestinians and 450 Jewish settlers. About 1,000 settlers attended a rally after the end of the Sabbath, some chanting "revenge" and "death to the Arabs." Army commanders urged settler leaders to prevent vigilante action.
In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Islamic Jihad supporters rallied in celebration. Abdullah Shami, a leader of the group, said, "There is no room to give up or to surrender to this criminal Nazi enemy who seeks to exterminate Palestinians in collusion with America."
The attack began shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday, after Jewish worshippers had finished Sabbath prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in downtown Hebron and were walking back to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, about half a mile away.
The dead included four Israeli soldiers, five border policemen and three civilian security guards from Kiryat Arba. It was one of the highest death tolls among security forces in a single encounter since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.
An army jeep chasing the gunmen raced into a dead-end alley and came under massive fire from all directions, said Col. Noam Tibon, an army commander.
Among the dead was the Hebron brigade commander, Col. Dror Weinberg, the highest-ranking Israeli officer fatally shot in more than two years of Mideast violence.
Fourteen soldiers and border policemen were wounded, including several who were in serious condition. Three gunmen were killed.
Jewish settlers in Hebron demanded that troops remain there indefinitely and that the government cancel a 1997 interim peace deal under which Israel withdrew from most of the city.
"What is needed is a response that will shock the enemy," said a statement by settler leaders.
Israeli troops razed three homes and cut down the olive grove from which shots were fired. They also rounded up 43 Palestinians, herding them blindfolded into army buses. Several wanted men were among the detainees, the military said.
Armored personnel carriers rolled into the Palestinian sector of Hebron, and troops were deployed throughout the city. Hebron's Palestinian residents were put under tight curfew.
Israeli soldiers withdrew from the Palestinian sector three weeks ago under what was to have been a partial pullback of forces from West Bank areas where calm was restored.
The State Department condemned Friday's attack as a "heinous crime," adding that although Israel has the right to take anti-terrorism measures, it must do everything it can to prevent civilian casualties.
Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the international community must "support Israel's right and obligation to take vigorous action against terror and the regimes that back it."
He said he continued to support the expulsion of Mr. Arafat. However, Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Mr. Sharon, said that a previous Cabinet decision not to expel the Palestinian leader remained in effect.
The United States opposes the expulsion of Mr. Arafat at a time when it tries to maintain Arab support for a possible strike against Iraq.
The Palestinian Authority withheld condemnation. Most Palestinians consider attacks on Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip a legitimate act of resistance against Israeli occupation.
Palestinian opinion is divided over attacks on civilians in Israel itself. Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement has tried to persuade the militant Hamas group to halt suicide bombings at least until Israel's Jan. 28 election.
Asked about the attack, Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh would only say: "The only solution to ending the cycle of violence is to come back to the negotiating table without conditions."
Hebron, to the south of Jerusalem, has long been a volatile place filled with religious and political tensions. Muslims here are among the most devout and the settlers among the most radical.
Hebron's so-called worshippers' lane, where the attack took place, links Kiryat Arba and downtown Hebron, and has been targeted by Palestinian gunmen in the past.
In 1929, Arabs killed dozens of Jews and destroyed the city's ancient Jewish quarter. After Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast War, a few hundred Jews moved back.
One of the flash points is the tomb where Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshippers in February 1994 before being beaten to death. The massacre sparked riots that lasted for days and helped spawn the phenomenon of suicide bombings against Israelis.


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