IDF Says Will Seize Palestinian Areas if Shooting Continues

IDF West Bank commander Brigadier General Gershon Yitzhak warned Friday afternoon that if Palestinians continue to fire into the Jewish enclave in Hebron, the IDF would re-occupy Palestinian-controlled areas overlooking the enclave.

IDF troops entered the Palestinian Authority-controlled hilltop neighborhood Abu Sneina, which overlooks the Jewish area, overnight Thursday. The incursion came after two Israelis in the enclave were wounded Thursday by Palestinian sniper fire.

IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said Friday morning that the IDF entry into Abu Sneina had been limited and was carried out in order to solve a local problem.

"The mission of the unit was to climb [the hill] up to the neighborhood and blow up two abandoned buildings that had become posts for snipers," Ya'alon said. He did not discount the possibility that the IDF would return to the Abu Sneina hilltop and remain there, should there be a need to do so.

Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz said Friday that the operation into Abu Sneina had achieved its purpose. "Since the strike was carried out, no shooting at the Jewish quarter from the neighborhood has occurred," Mofaz said.

However, Army Radio reported Friday that Palestinian gunmen had fired shots at the Jewish enclave Friday afternoon, this time from the A-Sheikh neighborhood. No injuries were reported.

Mofaz also said the IDF was ready to carry out numerous operations against the Palestinians should the shooting from Abu Sneina resume. In an interview on Army Radio, Mofaz said he had no misgivings regarding the diplomatic way the situation with the Palestinians was being dealt with.

"Any attempt to talk with the Palestinians is accepted by all of us, with the hope of reaching a cease-fire, and a resumption of negotiations." However, Mofaz placed the blame on the Palestinian Authority for carrying out terrorist actions against Israel in an attempt to make strategic gains.

The IDF briefly seized control Thursday night of a Palestinian Authority-governed area of the divided West Bank city of Hebron after two Jewish settlers were wounded by a Palestinian sniper in the area earlier Thursday.

The troops destroyed two buildings that IDF sources said had been used as cover by Palestinian snipers, before withdrawing early Friday morning. Intermittent gunbattles were heard in the area. One soldier was lightly wounded during the incursion.

Palestinian sources reported that 12 people had been wounded, one in a critical condition.

Palestinian witnesses said that as troops were trying to leave the Palestinian areas some were trapped and surrounded by gunmen resisting the incursion.

Helicopter gunships fired heavy machineguns at the Palestinian gunmen while troop reinforcements made their way to the area to free the soldiers.

The Palestinians reported that a number of IDF vehicles had been destroyed.

A Reuters correspondent at the scene said more than 15 armored personnel carriers and military jeeps had taken over the Palestinian-ruled Abu Sneinah hill, which overlooks the Jewish enclave in the city. Soldiers also surrounded a nearby neighborhood, he said. The army spokesman declined to comment.

The catalyst for the operation was Palestinian sniper fire which hit two brothers in Hebron on Thursday evening. The 11-year-old younger brother was hit in the stomach and sustained moderate to serious injuries. His 18-year-old brother, a soldier on furlough, was lightly wounded in the shoulder.

The brothers are residents of the Jewish enclave in Hebron. Security sources said that the fire came from Abu Sneinah.

Settlers have been calling for the army to reoccupy the hilltop since March when a Palestinian sniper stationed there shot dead 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass from the Jewish enclave.

Hebron is the only city in the West Bank where the Palestinians do not have full control. It was divided into Israeli and Palestinian sectors because of the presence of the settlers.

The Palestinians control about 80 percent of Hebron, with security forces and police posted there. Israeli troops guard the Jewish enclaves in the Israeli-controlled zone, which also includes about 30,000 Palestinians.