Islamic Group Says It Murdered 2 Israelis : Mideast: Hamas calls killings revenge for mosque massacre. It vows attacks will continue.
Hamas, a militant Islamic organization opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, claimed responsibility Saturday for the stabbing deaths of two Israeli construction workers and vowed to commit two attacks before the end of the year.
The killings are likely to further exacerbate tensions between the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat’s fledgling Palestinian Authority, which is still trying to organize its bureaucracy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.
Rabin is due to go before his Cabinet today with an Israeli-PLO agreement--initialed last week in Cairo--that would extend the PLO’s authority in areas throughout the occupied West Bank. Cabinet members are likely to pressure Rabin to slow down the negotiating process with the PLO unless it agrees to crack down on Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority met in Gaza on Saturday and endorsed the Cairo agreement, according to Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath. He told reporters that he and Danny Rothschild, Israel’s chief negotiator, will sign the agreement Monday at the Erez checkpoint that separates pre-1967 Israel from the Gaza Strip.
But the double murder in Ramle may once again put Arafat and the Palestinian police force on the spot. Police sources said they believe the attack was carried out by Palestinian workers from Gaza. The site where the killings took place was known to employ Palestinians from Gaza who did not have valid work permits, Police Chief Assaf Hefetz told Israel Television.
Under the terms of Israel’s agreement with the PLO, Palestinian police are responsible for apprehending criminal suspects in Palestinian-controlled territory and turning them over to Israeli authorities.
The bodies of Gil Rezach, 22, and Shlomo Kapach, 24, were discovered Friday afternoon at a construction site in Ramle, a suburb of Tel Aviv. If Hamas did carry out the attack, it would be the first time Palestinian extremists have killed Israelis inside the country’s pre-1967 borders since the Gaza Strip and Jericho came under Palestinian control in mid-May.
Since then, there have been 39 attacks on Israelis in the Gaza Strip and, Israeli authorities point out, the Palestinian police have failed to arrest any suspects.
Likud, the largest opposition party in Parliament, issued a statement Saturday night charging that “the cooperation of the government with the PLO prevents efficient war against terror.”
But Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said “terror must be eradicated by wiping out its underlying causes, both political and economic.”
Speaking to Israeli army radio, Peres said that “financial aid to Gaza will bring about a calming of the strip and lessening (of) the number of Gaza workers in Israel.” At a Sept. 8 conference in Paris, Israel and the PLO will make a joint appeal to international donors for $30 million to be funneled quickly to the cash-starved Palestinian Authority.
Rabin has reportedly conferred with Police Minister Moshe Shahal on ways to crack down on the number of workers entering Israel illegally from the Gaza Strip, a stronghold of Hamas. Israel grants work permits only to Gazans who pass extensive security background checks, but authorities believe that thousands of illegal workers slip in each day.
The Palestinian Authority has acknowledged Gaza’s dependence on Israel for employment and has been pushing the government to increase the quota of legal workers.
Such an increase seems unlikely now.
Israel Radio reported Saturday that Rezach and Kapach’s bodies had been mutilated, and that a note written in Arabic on a cigarette box left on one of the bodies claimed that Hamas’ “Secret Unit Number 19" had killed the men. Both Israel Radio and an international news organization later received faxes from Hamas, claiming the attack had been carried out in revenge for the Feb. 25 massacre of Muslim worshipers in Hebron by a Jewish settler.
“This attack is a response to the Hebron mosque massacre on its six-month anniversary, and we promise the Israeli government two more attacks by the end of the year,” the statement said.
It claimed that its guerrillas had “reached into the depths of the Hebrew state, after they crossed all the roadblocks and Israeli security obstacles,” to attack the construction workers.
After the Hebron massacre, Hamas promised to carry out a series of fatal attacks on Jews to avenge the deaths of the estimated 30 Palestinians killed when settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire with an automatic weapon during morning prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Muslims and Jews.
The Hebron site has been closed ever since, but Israel’s government is under increasing pressure from both Jews and Muslims to reopen it.