Soldier Killed in Gaza; Ben-Eliezer Warns PA to Stop Violence

Haaretz Staff
Agencies
Haaretz Staff
Agencies

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Tuesday, after an IDF soldier was killed in heavy exchanges of gunfire in the Gaza Strip, that if the Palestinians do not stop the violence in Gaza, the army will.

"I told senior Palestinian officials about what happened (in Gaza) and said, 'If you don't take care of it, we will,'" Ben-Eliezer said. "If they want to live in peace, if they want to live in prosperity, if they want to open our gates to work in Israel...it is up to them."

Sergeant Kevin Cohen, 19, from Petah Tikva, was killed in heavy fighting between IDF troops at the Yakinton post and armed Palestinians near the Neveh Dekalim settlement. He was seriously wounded in the gunfire and later died of his wounds at the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva. Cohen's funeral will be held Tuesday evening at the military cemetery in Petah Tikva.

A 15-year-old Palestinian youth, Ayman Zua'rub, from Khan Yunis was also killed in the gunfight, Palestinian sources said.

The military wing of the Hamas movement said one of the group's snipers had opened fire from the Khan Yunis refugee camp in central Gaza and "hit the target," a soldier at an IDF post near the settlements of Gadid and Neve Dekalim.

A military source said there had been sporadic shooting at the army post during the night and troops returned fire. The soldier was fatally wounded when shooting resumed from the direction of the camp after daybreak.

In the morning, an armed Palestinian was killed and another was injured in an exchange of fire between IDF troops and Palestinians in the Tul Karm refugee camp. The army said the dead Palestinian was a senior Tanzim member who was involved in several terror attacks, including dispatching suicide bombers to Israel, Israel Radio reported.

Troops entered the West Bank city of Tul Karm and took over its refugee camp early Tuesday, one day after the IDF pulled back from Bethlehem, beginning the implementation of Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer's "Gaza First" plan.

Soldiers were conducting house-to-house searches in the camp and IDF helicopters assisted the troops.

Israel Radio quoted IDF officials as saying there was an extensive terror infrastructure in Tul Karm, responsible for many terror attacks.

In the village of Al Yamun, near Jenin, IDF troops discovered a building with 25 pipe bombs. The IDF detonated the bombs and arrested two Palestinians.

PA police patrolling Bethlehem, build roadblocks in Strip Palestinian security forces completed early Tuesday morning their deployment in Bethlehem, and Palestinian policemen were patrolling near Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

In the Gaza Strip, PA policemen built roadblocks on roads leading to settlements and examined Palestinian drivers' papers and vehicles. PA sources said the measures were taken to prevent Palestinians from firing mortars

The Fatah military wing on Monday joined Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in objecing to the 'Gaza and Bethlehem First' plan.

The plan began Monday with Bethlehem seeing IDF troops leaving the city and its suburbs of Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour, south of Jerusalem, in the morning and armed Palestinian police patrols arriving with Palestinian Police Commander Gen. Haj Ismail in the evening.

Israel now awaits action by Palestinian Authority security forces in Gaza against the shooting and mortar incidents, which continued Monday, before it begins implementing its easing of conditions there.

As of Monday night, Bethlehem residents said they thought they were still under curfew, but in effect, the IDF had pulled out of the center of the city, where it had not taken up any major positions over the past several weeks. Troops, however, remain outside Bethlehem, keeping a tight lid on possible attempts by terrorist to leave the city.

According to the agreement, hammered out on Sunday night at a Tel Aviv meeting between Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, accompanied by top army officers, and Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, Israel will allow the Palestinian security forces to take over security control in the city and if violence subsides, Israel will undertake significant moves to ease living conditions for the residents. These include issuing more permits to allow workers to enter Israel for work purposes, the easing of trade restrictions, and other measures aimed at making life easier for the city's residents.

The U.S. welcomed the move, which Israel regards as a test of Palestinian credibility.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives slammed the agreement, saying it was a surrender on the part of the PA that would perpetuate the occupation. They vowed to step up their attempts to carry out terror operations inside Israel.

On the Israeli side, Minister Effi Eitam (National Religious Party) said the plan had been worked out "behind the government's back" and threatened to leave the government, saying Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ben-Eliezer had "lost their leadership roles." He accused Ben-Eliezer of exploiting the army for internal Labor Party political reasons and warned that if Sharon didn't start including the NRP in his decision-making process, its two ministers would quit the coalition government.

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