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The suspects detained in the murders of Kristine Luken and Neta Blatt-Sorek were able to operate on a twin buffer line: that which separates the criminal and the nationalist, and the barely visible line between the West Bank and Israel, in the area south of Jerusalem. Their main occupation was robbery, break-ins, theft, in the area around Beit Shemesh, which served them as a base from which they added recent nationalist-motivated terrorist attacks.

The pretext for the first of the terrorist attacks, the stabbing of a couple of Israelis in Beit Shemesh in February of last year, was their wish to avenge the assassination of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai several weeks earlier. But from what Shin Bet and police investigators had to say yesterday, the two murders did not occur following particularly long planning. The suspects got up in the morning and decided to murder Jews, and to attack at the first opportunity they had, said a senior Shin Bet officer.

Kifah Ghanimat, Ibrahim Ghanimat and Iyad Fatata, did not belong to a terrorist organization and received no orders from Hamas in Gaza or Damascus. The three were veteran criminals, with access to weapons (they had pistols in the past, but the murders were done with knives ), who stayed illegally, but undisturbed, inside the Green Line.

The breakthrough in the investigation came the moment a decision was made to view the Luken murder in December as very likely to have been a terrorist attack. The detailed and reliable testimony of Kaye Wilson, who was seriously injured in the attack, led the investigators to the certain conclusion that the attackers were Palestinians. At this stage the capabilities and resources of the Shin Bet entered the picture, which led to the arrest of the suspects within less than 72 hours.

In the murder of Blatt-Sorek, 10 months earlier, the police first thought it was a suicide and then looked at the criminal angle. While Luken was murdered near the Green Line, Sorek was stabbed and choked to death eight kilometers west of the area where Luken died, which is relatively distant from the West Bank.

The Shin Bet says that they are very careful not to slip into the territory of the civilian police force and become involved in criminal cases. This may not be comforting for the families of Blatt-Sorek or Luken, an Americna tourist murdered several days after coming to Israel. But the broader picture justifies to a large extent the basis of the Shin Bet approach.

The two murders and the long series of other felonies raise, once again, serious questions, about the huge gaps on the separation fence in the area from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion. This is the route of the illegal residents from the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians looking for work cross into Israel, as do criminals and at times terrorists.

Nine years after the Sharon government decided belatedly to set up the fence, only two-thirds of the fence is standing. The defense establishment tends to blame High Court rulings on the fence route, but the main problem is budgeting.