When Gush Katif farmer Roni Tsalah, a 33-year-old resident
of Kfar Yam in southern Gaza (a community of four families),
was found murdered on Monday morning in an onion field,
apparently shot with his own gun, talks with the Palestinian
Authority were suspended. However they were set to resume
Tuesday according to the PA and according to an official in
the Prime Minister's office.
The gaps remain wide even between the tremendous concessions
that desperate prime minister Ehud Barak has offered and the
Palestinian position, as time runs out before U.S. President
Clinton leaves office this coming Shabbos morning, January
20, at noon. Even though Clinton cannot make any effective
promises in the name of the United States since he has only
days in office and his successor is not even from his own
party, after he leaves office he have even less standing and
George W. Bush is expected to assign a lower priority to
reaching a settlement in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Sunday's murder an
"abominable crime" that dealt a "difficult blow to the peace
process." In the same interview, Barak stressed that Israel
would never accept the "right of return" of refugees to
Israel, and stressed that he would not sign an agreement
that would transfer sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the
Palestinians. He also said that a victory by Ariel Sharon in
the elections would destroy the chances for peace.
President Moshe Katsav said the incident proved the
Palestinians are not serious in their efforts to attain
peace with Israel.
Political sources in Jerusalem were quoted as saying the
latest contacts were aimed primarily at preventing an
escalation of violence and ensuring that dialogue continues
after Clinton's term ends.
To avenge Tsalah's slaying, Jewish settlers set fire to
Palestinian homes, fields and greenhouses in the nearby Al-
Mawassi camp. The main targets were Palestinian
installations that are adjacent to Tsalah's fields and
hothouses. According to friends, Tsalah was one of the last
settlers who had continued to work with local
On Monday, however, Gush Katif farmers said they will
continue to employ Palestinian laborers as they have no
choice if they want to earn a livelihood. They claim that
they have asked for permits to employ Thai workers but the
government has refused to issue them. As a result they have
no choice but to employ Palestinians if they are not to
Israel reimposed a closure on the area in response to the
murder. It prevented Palestinian vehicles traveling on the
roads, barred Palestinian workers from entering Israel, and
closed down the Dahaniya Airport in Gaza, as well as the
Rafah border crossing to Egypt and the cargo crossings into
Israel. The steps were in addition to the army's operations
in the area the previous night, which effectively divided
the Gaza Strip into three isolated sections. These steps had
been taken previously, but were recently lifted as
"confidence building measures."
Palestinian police handed over to army officials the remains
of Tsalah's car, which had been burned and wrecked by a
Palestinian mob in Khan Yunis hours after he went missing.
Israel demanded that the PA track down those responsible and
hand them over to Israeli authorities. Israel demanded to
question three Palestinian workers who Tsalah had employed a
day earlier to plaster the newly built packaging depot next
to his hothouse. Tsalah hired those workers without a
security permit from the Army, making it much harder to
trace them. Both Hamas and Fatah activists claimed
responsibility for the murder.
The Gazan settlements' regional council, said, "Roni
believed in coexistence . . . and he provided employment for
Likud leader Ariel Sharon declared that Tsalah's murder was
the result of the current government policy of "surrendering
to Palestinian terror."
OC Gaza Strip Brig-.Gen. Yair Naveh said at a briefing at
the Kissufim crossing that the army was informed of Tsalah's
disappearance an hour and 15 minutes after it was first
noticed, and immediately set up roadblocks and conducted
widespread searches. He blamed the Palestinian Authority,
which he said acted slowly, putting in a minimal, obligatory
"At the same time, we were informed by the Ituran [tracking]
company that Roni's vehicle had been located in Khan Yunis.
. . . We were in constant touch with the PA, which we asked
to find out if Roni was in the car, and if so to return him
to us ," he said. "At 3 a.m. they returned his burned-out
car, which had been set on fire in Khan Yunis." The Ituran
company claims that it can pinpoint to within 20 meters the
location of a car equipped with its hidden tracking
Naveh criticized the PA, which he said continues to declare
its intention to restore calm. "I can only talk about the
incidents we have dealt with over the last 12 hours: an
attempt to detonate a bomb at the border fence of Netzarim,
shots fired at a convoy traveling on the Karni-Netzarim
road, a bomb that exploded near an army patrol in Gush
Katif, shots at soldiers conducting searches last night,
shots fired at Kfar Darom," he said. "And this is a sign of
calm being restored in the area?"
Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), the speaker of the Palestinian
legislature, criticized the murder of a civilian in an
interview with Voice of Palestine radio, but also protested
the collective punishment Israel had imposed in response.
Other Palestinians, however, said they did not share
Qureia's objection to killing settlers.
Tzalach's murder was the first in Gush Katif in almost two
months, apparently because a new IDF deployment in Gaza had
helped to frustrate most attacks.