PA premier Fayyad says suspects in killings of 2 Israelis caught by PA
PA premier promises to fulfill security commitments; PA minister vows 'harsh measures' against killers.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Saturday that his security forces had arrested an unspecified number of suspects in Friday's killing of two Israeli hikers in the West Bank, and had passed to Israel weapons taken from the dead men by their Palestinian attackers.
"We have suspects in custody already," he said. "We are cooperating and coordinating with the Israeli security services, weapons have already been returned to Israeli security in connection with this particular incident."
Sharing a podium with President Shimon Peres at an economic conference in Herzliya, Fayyad also expressed condolences to the families of the two off-duty soldiers killed while hiking near Hebron in the West Bank.
Fayyad did not give further details and the Israel Defense Forces had no immediate confirmation of his comments.
Fayyad said Saturday the arrests were proof of his government's determination to rein in Palestinian militant groups and impose law and order in the areas under its control and investigation of Friday's gunfight in which the Israelis killed a Palestinian gunman before they were fatally wounded would be thorough.
"It will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law, he said. So it's not only strong words of condemnation," it's action.
Earlier, in Nablus, Fayyad acknowledged that the shooting attack near Hebron took place on territory for which the Palestinian Authority is responsible. He said that the PA would fulfill all of its security commitments, according to Ma'an, an independent Palestinian news agency.
On Friday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Friday vowed a "harsh" response to the attack, in which one of the militants responsible for the shooting was killed in ensuing gunfire.
"As we condemn all Israeli assassination operations... in Gaza and West Bank, we cannot accept such operations carried out by armed groups," said al-Malki.
He said the aim of the group who carried out the attack was to disrupt peace talks and Palestinian security plans, and promised "to take harsh measures" against them.
The victims of the drive-by shooting attack, named as David Rubin and Ahikam Amihai, both in their 20s, were hiking in the area of the West Bank settlements of Talam and Adura with a female resident of Kiryat Arba when a group of four Palestinian terrorists opened fire on them from a Jeep.
The IDF Central Command said that the three Israelis entered Area B of the West Bank, which is under Palestinian civilian control, despite warnings not to do so.
Rubin and Amihai, who were soldiers on leave from the Israel Defense Forces, managed to return fire and reportedly killed one of the terrorists.
They later died from their wounds, while the woman who accompanied them managed to hide and was not harmed.
IDF troops arrested early Saturday six Palestinians from Hebron in connection with the attack.
On Friday, Palestinian sources stated that IDF troops raided a hospital in Hebron searching for a gunman believed to have been wounded in the attack. The IDF has not confirmed the report.
Meanwhile, Israel sent a letter of protest over the attack to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the president of the Security Council, Israel Radio reported Saturday.
Both Islamic Jihad and an armed wing of Fatah claimed responsibility for the shooting. The top Palestinian security official said on Saturday the Palestinian Authority was dismantling militant groups, including Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.
Israel has recently killed several of Islamic Jihad's militants in the Gaza Strip, including some senior commanders.
Israeli envoy to the United Nations Dan Gillerman emphasized that the Palestinian Authority has still not proven its desire to fight terror, and that Islamic Jihad receives finance and cover from UN member states.
Both Rubin and Amihai were in elite units of the IDF, with Rubin serving as a sergeant in the Israeli Naval commandos and Amihai as a corporal in the Israel Air Force's equivalent unit.
The terrorists then escaped and the woman called the emergency center in Kiryat Arba. However, the rescue team had trouble locating her because she did not know their whereabouts.
Israel Defense Forces and paramedics were called in to help with the search, and managed to reach the bodies of the two men. The woman, who suffered from shock, was taken to a Kiryat Arba clinic nearby.
The group had threatened to retaliate for the Gaza attacks, saying the Israeli actions would "not go unpunished".
An Israel police spokesman called Friday's shooting a "terrorist attack" and said police and the army had searched the area for the attackers.
The shooting attack came hours after IDF troops killed a bodyguard of the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiatator, Ahmed Qureia,in Ramallah.
Also Friday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a Qassam rocket at the western Negev. No injuries or damages were reported.
Amihai and Reuben were laid to rest on Saturday evening. Their funeral procession passed from Kiryat Arba to the military cemetery of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Rubin is the son of Rabbi Mishael Rubin of Hebron and his brother is the acting rabbi of "Shavei Hebron" yeshiva in Beit Romano.
Amihai, who served in the elite Shayetet 13 Naval commandos unit, is the son of Rabbi Yehuda Amihai, head of the Land and Torah center that was formerly based in Kfar Darom in Gush Katif and was moved to Ashkelon after the disengagement in 2005.
Ahikam's mother Esther is the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Nariya, known to many as "the father of the kippot srugot," referring to the knit skullcaps popular with the settler movement.
The Kiryat Arba council severely criticized the government following the attack. Zvi Katzover, head of the local council, said in response that "whoever lets off terrorists and supplies them with guns does not have to push the trigger in order to become an accomplice."
MK Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party) added that the murder is "further proof of intensified terrorist attacks by Arabs, who take advantage of Israel's weakness and lenience." He stressed that the prime minister's recent declarations regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners and the freezing of building permits in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, were a "tail wind for terrorism."
The Almagor Terror Victims Association requested this week that the cabinet cancel its planned discussion on the easing of criteria for the release of prisoners. Instead, the association said in response to the murder that the cabinet should schedule a security discussion on replacing removed roadblocks and restrictions for Palestinian vehicles on central routes.
The chairman of the association, Meir Indor, said that the proposed discussion would "send out a clear message to the terrorist organizations that renewing terrorist attacks comes with a heavy price: in refusing to release prisoners and in hardening Israel's line regarding the Palestinians."
Last month, an Israeli resident of the Shavei Shomron community in the West Bank was shot and killed while driving to a nearby settlement by three Palestinians, members of the PA's security force.
The Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade took responsibility for that attack. A statement from the group said the shooting came in protest of the upcoming Annapolis peace summit and the "crimes of Israel against the Palestinians."
In a separate incident on Friday, a number of casualties were reported in clashes between Palestinian clans in the same area.
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