Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is vowing to step up targeted killings of suspected Palestinian terrorists. Israel's practice of targeted killings is not new, but Sharon's statements again threw a spotlight on the controversial policy.
He made the comment following a terror attack Dec. 27 at a West Bank yeshiva, in which four students were killed and 10 others wounded. Reflecting the odd vagaries of Middle East politics, his vow also came as Israeli and Palestinian officials began reviewing the latest draft of a U.S. "road map" for achieving peace in the region.
Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Dec. 29, Sharon said that he and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had agreed to strike at terrorists, those who help them and those who send them. Also speaking at the meeting, Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein criticized the targeted assassinations policy, saying it must only be used as a last resort, when all other attempts to arrest wanted Palestinians have failed.
In the deadly yeshiva attack, two Palestinian gunmen dressed in Israeli army uniforms and armed with rifles and hand grenades infiltrated the settlement of Otniel south of Hebron. They entered the yeshiva through the kitchen, firing at students and guests who had gathered for Shabbat dinner.
One of the students on kitchen duty managed to lock the door leading from the kitchen to the dining room, preventing the terrorists from entering the dining room. All four of the students who were in the kitchen were killed.
One gunman was killed in a half-hour shootout with Israeli troops. The second terrorist fled but was found later and killed by Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it came in retaliation for the slaying a day earlier of one of its leaders in the Jenin area.
The four Israelis killed in the attack were buried Dec. 29. They were identified as Pvt. Yehuda Bamberger, 20, of Karnei Shomron; Zvi Zieman, 18, Re'ut; Gavriel Hoter, 17, Alonei Habashan, and Staff Sgt. Noam Apter, 23, Shilo.
In another development, an Israeli undercover unit arrested three members of Islamic Jihad near Hebron on the same day the four Israelis were buried, Army Radio reported. Mofaz said soldiers have arrested more than 1,200 Palestinians in the past two months in what he described as an unprecedented campaign against suspected terrorists.
The leader of Hamas on Dec. 27 called for additional attacks against Israel. During a rally of 30,000 supporters in Gaza City, Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin said discussions between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement about temporarily suspending attacks on Israeli civilians will not prove fruitful.
"The march of martyrs will move forward," Yassin said. Activists at the rally blew up a model of an Israeli tank and burned U.S., British and Israeli flags.
Israel blamed Arafat for the Otniel attack, saying the Palestinian Authority has failed to clamp down on terror. A Palestinian official said Israel's policies, including the targeted killings, were to blame for the ongoing attacks.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials began reviewing the latest draft of an international diplomatic initiative aimed at ending more than two years of violence. The draft of the road map was given to the two sides after President Bush met in Washington in December with other members of the so-called diplomatic "Quartet" -- Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
Israel persuaded Bush to agree not to publish the draft until after Israeli elections are held Jan. 28. In the meantime, each side was expected to review the draft and draw up responses.
According to the Jerusalem Post, which published details of the road map, there were few changes in the revised draft. According to the newspaper, the first stage of the road map calls for both sides to call for an end to violence and commit to stopping incitement.
The plan also calls for a complete freeze on Israeli settlement activity and for visible steps by the Palestinians to fight terror. The Palestinian Authority is called on to undertake political and security reforms.
The second stage begins with Palestinian elections and concludes at the end of 2003, with the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. It also calls for an international conference convened by the Quartet.
The third stage, lasting until the end of 2005, calls for a second international conference that would include final-status talks on borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Political sources in Jerusalem were reportedly satisfied with the latest version, Israel Radio reported. Though Israel has begun drawing up its response, it is not expected to be submitted until after the elections, the report said.