Israel urges Palestinians to help find killers of 2 women

JERUSALEM — Israel has called on the Palestinian Authority to help find those responsible for murdering two young Israeli women in Wadi Kelt, a popular hiking spot near the West Bank town of Jericho.

The bodies of Hagit Zavitzky of Kfar Adumim and Liat Kastiel of Holon, both aged 23, were found Friday of last week by other hikers. The women's bodies were covered with stab wounds.

Israeli security forces believe the women were killed by Arab terrorists who then fled into the nearby autonomous areas. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

An Israeli security source said that despite the ongoing lack of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority agreed to try to verify whether the attackers had fled to Jericho.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who met in Jericho on Sunday with Labor Party Knesset member Yossi Beilin, promised to help in the efforts.

Beilin, a key player in the drafting of the Israeli-Palestinian accords, also offered a proposal to revive the peace process. Talks stalled after Israel began construction last month of the new Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem.

Arafat expressed interest in the proposal, but Israeli officials said that Beilin could not negotiate on behalf of the government.

Four other Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks at Wadi Kelt in recent years.

The Israel Defense Force has issued orders that only large organized groups, who have coordinated their plans with the army, can hike in the area.

In 1995, Ori Shachor and Ohad Bacharach were shot dead at Wadi Kelt by terrorists who were later arrested by Palestinian security forces in Jericho. The Palestinian Authority has refused Israeli requests to extradite the terrorists.

In 1993, two other hikers, Dror Forer and Eran Bachar, were murdered at Wadi Kelt. Hamas and Islamic Jihad each claimed responsibility. The assailants were never caught.

The most recent victims set out on their own a day earlier from Kfar Adumim, a West Bank Jewish settlement near Wadi Kelt.

Family members said that the two women had intended to hike through Wadi Kelt and then attend a music concert on the Dead Sea.

According to security officials, the women's bodies were found about a mile from Kfar Adumim.

Autopsies indicated that the women had resisted their attackers. There were no signs of rape.

Both women had recently returned to Israel after lengthy trips abroad. Kastiel had traveled in the Far East; Zavitzky, in South America.