After shootings, Israel tries to head off refueled intifada

jerusalem | Two terrorist incidents in the West Bank have some Israeli officials warning about a new stage in the five-year-old Palestinian intifada against Israel.

Twin drive-by shootings Sunday, Oct. 16 killed three Israelis in the West Bank and wounded four. Most of the casualties were teenage settlers trying to hitch rides home.

The al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attacks, the worst against West Bank settlers in four months.

Israel accused the Palestinians of abusing recent Defense Ministry decisions to ease restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank out of respect for the Ramadan fast month.

“Unfortunately, the Palestinians have exploited these measures in order to carry out these murderous attacks,” said David Baker, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office.

In response, Israel suspended security coordination efforts with the authority. But Israeli officials said diplomatic contacts would continue.

Israeli forces also imposed new restrictions on West Bank traffic, requiring Palestinians to travel by public transport rather than private cars. The army imposed a closure on Hebron and Bethlehem in a further bid to prevent terrorists from reaching roads used by Israelis.

The bloodshed was an embarrassment for Abbas, who was slated to travel to Washington for talks with President Bush.

Israel has called on Bush to use the talks with Abbas to demand that the authority fulfill its obligation under the “road map” peace plan to crack down on terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In an effort to head off the criticism, the authority said over the weekend that in the month since Israel withdrew from Gaza its security forces had foiled 17 attempted attacks and confiscated dozens of rockets and bombs from terrorist groups.

Israel says the Palestinian figures are unrealistic, but doesn’t dispute that violence emanating from Gaza has abated. But officials warn that the various terrorist groups merely have shifted their efforts to the West Bank.