New violence shatters brief calm in Mideast

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 13-Jan-05 | Author: Greg Myre| Source: International Herald Tribune

The daughter of Gideon Rivlin mourns over his coffin during his funeral at the Gaza Strip settlement of Ganei Tal January 12, 2005.
Israeli settler and 4 Palestinians killed

JERUSALEM After a brief calm surrounding this week's Palestinian election, an Israeli man was killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb in the Gaza Strip and Israeli soldiers tracked down and killed four armed Palestinians, including those who planted the explosive, officials said.

Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes attacks against Israel, was elected as the Palestinian leader on Sunday, raising hopes that the level of violence will subside and the Israelis and Palestinians will resume a political dialogue.

But armed Palestinian factions have rejected Abbas's call to lay down their weapons and have resumed attacks.

In the southern Gaza Strip, Gideon Rivlin, a 50-year-old Jewish settler, was killed and three soldiers were wounded when they hit a roadside bomb while traveling in an army jeep, the military said. Rivlin worked on fences, and they were checking one in the settlement of Morag, the military added.

Soldiers pursued two members of Islamic Jihad who planted the bomb and after the explosion opened fire with automatic rifles. The two men were shot and killed, according to the military and the Palestinian faction. The military said there may have been a third attacker who escaped.

Islamic Jihad and a larger Islamic faction, Hamas, refused to participate in Sunday's presidential election. However, they did not disrupt the balloting and refrained from any major attacks against Israeli targets.

But the Palestinians have resumed their rocket and mortar fire in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel suspended military raids into Palestinian areas over the election period, but on Wednesday troops killed two wanted Hamas men during an incursion in the West Bank.

The forces entered the West Bank village of Karwat Beni Zeit, and came under gunfire from inside a house they had surrounded, the Israeli military said. The troops returned fire, killing the two Hamas men, identified by the military as Abdullah Dik, 31, and Waffi Shaibi, 26. Afterward, the soldiers destroyed the house.

Between them, the two Hamas men had carried out shooting attacks, manufactured bombs and recruited potential suicide bombers, the military said.

Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, said that he will seek to persuade the Palestinian factions to halt attacks, but that he does not intend to call on the Palestinian security forces to confront them.

Israeli leaders, while supportive of Abbas, are skeptical that his approach will work.

Abbas "will not try to confiscate the illegally held weapons, he will not take on Hamas," Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, the head of Israel's military intelligence, said on Israel radio. The Palestinian leader "will appeal to Palestinian public opinion to put pressure on the terrorists by explaining that this generation has suffered enough."

In Israeli politics, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new coalition government passed its first significant test as Parliament gave preliminary approval to the 2005 state budget.

Sharon established the new coalition on Monday and plans to push ahead with his planned withdrawal of all 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza this summer.

But some members of his own rightist Likud Party oppose the Gaza withdrawal as well as the composition of the new coalition, which includes the center-left Labor Party.

Legislators approved the budget by a vote of 64-53, and will have to support it in two more parliamentary ballots before it takes effect.

The "Likud rebels" supported the budget on Wednesday, but again called on Sharon to hold a national referendum on the Gaza withdrawal. Sharon has rejected this, calling it a stalling tactic.

The Likud rebels said they could change their votes and oppose the budget in the second and third readings unless Sharon meets their demand.

In a separate development, Israel is attempting to prevent the sale of Russian missiles to Syria, according to reports in the Israeli and Russian media.

According to the reports, Russia is planning to sell to Syria SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles, as well as Iskander-E ground-to-ground missiles, which would be capable of hitting any part of Israel. Israel is concerned the weapons could be passed on from Syria to the Hezbollah guerrilla group in Lebanon, the reports added.