Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday at the cabinet meeting that the killing of Abdullah Qawasmeh, head of military operations for Hamas in the Hebron region, was "an essential operation meant to provide security to Israel."
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was critical of the operation and said yesterday that he "was sorry for the killing of Abdullah Qawasmeh," which he considers to have been unnecessary and "a possible impediment to progress [for peace]."
The Bush administration clarified to Israel last night that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had not condemned the IDF's killing Qawasmeh. U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer called the Prime Minister's Office and said that Powell had expressed sorrow over the fact that the situation in the Middle East leads to such measures being taken.
Both the government and the IDF have rejected criticism from the United States and the Palestinians and insisted the operation was not a "targeted killing," the IDF term for assassinations, but an attempt to arrest a wanted fugitive.
The killing of Qawasmeh resurfaced the debate among Israel and its allies on the meaning of "ticking bomb," which Israel interprets broadly to include those who can, at any instance, initiate terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The American interpretation of such a threat tends to limit the category to imminent danger posed by a terrorist on his way to carrying out an attack.
According to sources in the security forces, the units of the security services and the police antiterrorist unit were instructed to attempt to capture Qawasmeh alive.
One of the primary reasons for opting to arrest Qawasmeh was his value as an intelligence source. Contrary to extremely dangerous environs, like the Gaza Strip, which is densely populated and extremely hazardous because of the sheer numbers of armed militants, Hebron posed a more realistic option for arresting the suspect rather than killing him.
The IDF and the security services had a very difficult time making inroads into the Hamas organization in the Hebron area. A captured Qawasmeh was expected to provide invaluable information on other senior operatives in the area.
The incident involving the antiterrorist unit and Qawasmeh took place in the street, near the main mosque in Hebron, and not in an apartment as was originally reported.
IDF sources say Qawasmeh seems to have identified the men of the anti-terrorist unit, who were dressed in civilian clothes and emerged from vehicles with Palestinian Authority license plates.
Identifying Qawasmeh and seeing that he carried an M-16 and a pistol, the antiterrorist squad openned fire as soon as they saw him make a move they considered threatening. Qawasmeh was shot by several officers of the squad and was killed on the spot.
The pistol he was carrying was loaded and cocked, but had apparently jammed. Weapons experts at the IDF say Qawasmeh had probably tried to open fire at the officers but his weapon failed him.
"Qawasmeh was the No. 1 wanted man on our list in the West Bank," an IDF source said. "This is not an exaggeration for the media's sake."