- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israelis and Palestinians remained on edge a day after Israeli troops barged into a Jericho jail to seize a group of high-profile militants, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the operation an “unforgivable crime” and the Israeli police called in reinforcements to maintain a state of high alert.

In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian anger smoldered over the arrest of militant leader Ahmed Saadat as tires burned in the streets, supporters of his militia demonstrated and shop owners shuttered their doors.

Israeli border police fatally shot a Palestinian near Ramallah who threw a Molotov cocktail at them.

Palestinian gunmen released the remaining four hostages — two French nationals, a South Korean and a Canadian — abducted in outrage over the siege of tanks and bulldozers, but foreigners in the territories stayed home from work and foreign missions remained closed for fear of new violence.

Palestinians blamed the U.S. and Britain for triggering the Israeli incursion after London terminated a four-year-old accord that guaranteed the Jericho imprisonment of militants accused of killing an Israeli Cabinet minister.

Mr. Abbas cut short a trip to Europe and rushed back to the West Bank, paying a visit to Jericho prison, where the 10-hour siege had taken place a day earlier. The Israeli incursion wounded Mr. Abbas’ reputation, as Palestinians blamed the government for failing to protect its prisoners.

Against a backdrop of rubble and twisted iron rods from the destroyed jail, Mr. Abbas said the incursion was motivated by Israeli election politics and was meant to humiliate the Palestinians.

“What took place was an unforgivable crime, a humiliation of the Palestinian people and a violation of agreements,” he said. “Palestinian anger is justified. We can’t say to them, ‘Why are you going out to the streets to demonstrate?’”

Four years ago, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the accused militants could be held in the West Bank under Palestinian control and U.S. and British supervision.

Such supervision was absent when the Israelis attacked.

The frayed relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority reflected increasing friction since the January victory of Hamas in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Israeli security forces braced for a retaliatory attack promised by members of Saadat’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Kassem rockets fired from Gaza fell near the border with Israel.

The Israeli press heaped praise on acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the military for a “wondrous” incursion.

Basking in the afterglow of the apprehension of Saadat and four others accused of assassinating Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze’evi five years ago in a Jerusalem hotel, Mr. Olmert said the government had restored the honor of the slain minister.

Political analysts predicted that Mr. Olmert and his Kadima party would enjoy a bump in the polls ahead of March 28 parliamentary elections.

“It never occurred to me that the international supervisors would leave and that these murderers, these murders of an Israeli minister and leader, would go free from prison without our capturing them and punishing them,” Mr. Olmert said. “The outcome was excellent.”

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