Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Reactions to Bus Terrorist Attack
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Israel issued a thinly veiled threat to strike a serious blow at Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in the wake of an unorthodox terrorist attack that killed eight soldiers and civilians and injured many last week at a crowded bus stop south of Tel Aviv.

The Egged bus line identified the driver as Khalil Abu Ulbah, 36, a father of five from Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan quarter who had driven commuting Palestinian laborers on the Gaza-Tel Aviv route for five years.

Abu Ulbah said he had entered Israel with the clear intention of carrying out an attack and that his decision had not been a spur-of-the-moment one.

After a high speed chase over 10 miles, with pursuing police firing at the speeding vehicle, the bus crashed into a large truck, nearly breaking in two, witnesses said. Abu Ulbah was taken from the vehicle and rushed to a nearby hospital in serious condition.

According to security sources, the General Security Service approved Abu Ulbah's entry permit two weeks previously. He met the criteria set by the defense establishment -- he was 35 or older, married, with children, had a permanent place of employment for an extended period, his employer had promised to supervise him, and he had passed a thorough security screening by the GSS.

The hit-and-run attack was the bloodiest single Palestinian strike at Israelis since the late September eruption of the Palestinian uprising.

"We cannot continue to allow a situation where, as a result of the Palestinian Authority's lack of desire to fight terror and cooperate with us in the war against terror, we continue to suffer terrorist attacks," said Danny Yatom, security advisor to outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak sealed off Palestinian- ruled areas in response to the murderous attack.

Barak's office said in a statement that he had "ordered a series of immediate steps in light of the attack, including the closing of Palestinian Authority international crossings, the cancellation of easing of the closure and complete enforcement of such, as well as additional steps."

An Israeli military spokesman said Gaza International Airport had been closed before the bus attack due to "a dramatic rise of attacks in Gaza." He was referring to fierce gun battles with Palestinian gunmen which have continued since then as well.

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ron Kitri said that the IDF did not find any link between the terrorist attack and the IDF rocket attack against Massoud Iyyad.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, an advisor to Arafat, said that Barak had only himself to blame for the killings, because "violence only begets violence."

Yasser Arafat declined to condemn the fatal terrorist attack and blamed Israel for inflaming Palestinian public anger.

"What is happening is Israel's military escalation, which has a direct effect on the emotions of the Palestinian people," he said during a visit to Amman.

On its web site, Hamas called the attack "an act of heroism." The group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said Israel was responsible for the attack because it continued to occupy Palestinian land and bomb the Palestinian people.

Another senior Hamas official, Abed al-Aziz Rantisi, said the attack was a "popular response" to Israel's actions of recent days.

According to Israel Radio, Abu Ulbah entered Israel in the framework of an ongoing work project enabling 16,000 workers to be employed in Israel under special permits, granted according to exacting security standards, but officials of the defense establishment had criticized the project, saying they had warned of the possible dangers it posed.

Hours prior to the attack, Israeli officials closed Gaza's Dahaniye airport, one day after it had opened the field to Palestinians flying to Mecca for the annual Islamic Haj pilgrimage. A total of 8,000 pilgrims were to have flown to Mecca in the course of a week.

In remarks quoted by Israel Radio, Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon said he viewed the attack with "the utmost gravity," adding that, "Once again it has been proven that from the Palestinians' standpoint, there is no difference between Netzarim, the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, the Lebanese border, and the country's very heart."

Army brass said that the attack was a direct result of the Palestinian Authority's policy of encouraging terror and violence. Chief of Staff Mofaz warned that if the PA did not put a stop to the violence, Israeli would do everything in its power to do so itself.

Mofaz said that as a result of the attack, the following security steps would be taken: A complete closure on the territories as well as a blockade on Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza, closure of the Allenby and Rafah border crossings. In addition, a closure of the airport and port in Rafah, and prevention of freedom of movement of senior PA officials.

Following the terror attack, all Palestinian laborers were ordered back to the territories, and the government said it would review the policy of allowing Palestinians to work in the country.

The IDF also imposed a full general closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring all Palestinians from entering the country. The closure will be in effect for an indefinite period. It does not include humanitarian cases nor those going to Mecca on pilgrimage.

VIP status for the Palestinian leadership was also canceled. There are 72 Palestinians holding VIP 1 status who had been allowed free entry into Israel and travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Another 200 with VIP 2 status had their status revoked early in the uprising.

All international crossings into the Gaza Strip were also closed.

There has been a closure since September 30, but it has been periodically relaxed to allow tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers into Israel to alleviate the severe economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority. Some 7,000 Palestinian workers entered the country daily via the Erez crossing in the Gaza Strip including the terrorist bus driver.

Another 7,000 Palestinians with permits crossed from the West Bank, and tens of thousands of more are believed to have sneaked into the country. Before the unrest, some 70,000 permits were issued daily.

Egged has employed Gaza residents as drivers to bring workers into Israel for the last seven years, and there were no problems until the Azur incident, Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said following the terror attack.

Egged Chairman of the Board Arik Feldman said the company employed some 200 drivers who had undergone a rigorous security check and approval by the General Security Service. He said that transport of workers from Gaza was vital to the Israeli economy and was a result of agreements between the government and the Palestinian Authority to bring some 15,000-20,000 workers into Israel from Gaza daily.

According to Feldman, all of the drivers were at least 30 years old and most were over 40. They all had families and had no record of security offenses. He added that whether workers will be brought from Gaza in the future depends on the defense authorities.

Following the attack, hundreds of angry Israelis, most of them from the nearby Holon and Bat Yam suburbs of Tel Aviv, called on Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon to take forceful, immediate action to combat a surge of attacks on Israelis that shattered a recent lull in violence tied to the Palestinian uprising.


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