Hostility Runs High As Israelis Retaliate For Bombings
AL FAWAR, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli soldiers forced Palestinians caught breaking curfew Wednesday to sit for hours on a curb inside a barbed-wire barrier. ``Head down, hands behind your back,″ one soldier bellowed.
In the Al Fawar refugee camp down the road, Palestinians calmly tried to justify suicide bombings by two men from their neighborhood who killed 23 Israelis, two Americans and a Palestinian last week.
``Theirs was a normal response″ to Israeli occupation, said math teacher Iyyad Qawasmi, 23, peering from his balcony as soldiers patrolled below to enforce a three-day-old curfew.
With hostility running high on both sides, the mood on the street was as if Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had never shaken hands at the White House.
Hunting for Muslim militants who plotted four suicide bombings over a nine-day period, Israeli soldiers deployed in most of the West Bank on Wednesday, including areas that already were ceremoniously handed over to Palestinian police last fall.
Troops demonstrated who is in charge, laying siege to the West Bank’s 465 towns and villages and confining Palestinians to their communities. Jeeps blocked dusty back roads and metal spikes were laid across asphalted streets to keep back motorists.
There were no exceptions. No Palestinians entered Israel on Wednesday _ neither ambulances nor Palestinian VIPs.
Mohammed Abu Awwad, a Palestinian Authority employee whose office handles millions of dollars in foreign aid, was ordered by a young Israeli officer to get out of his car and stand in line with several other men on the main road south of Hebron.
After inspecting Abu Awwad’s identity card, the officer told him he must immediately return to his village, nearby Dura.
Abu Awwad, dressed in a vested gray suit and tie, got into his car. Shaking with humiliation, he told a reporter he could not understand the scope of the Israeli crackdown. As a supporter of peace, he strongly opposed the bombings, he said.
``You can’t punish all people for one man’s sin,″ he added.
At that point, an Israeli command car pulled alongside Abu Awwad’s car, parked on the roadside. ``You have exactly 10 seconds to move or I’m going to arrest you,″ said the same officer he had encountered before.
Abu Awwad quickly drove off.
A few hundred yards away, at the entrance to Al Fawar camp, which has been under curfew since Monday, Palestinian police in a shiny blue patrol car drove up to the Israeli roadblock to persuade soldiers to let an ambulance enter the camp.
In the ambulance was a nurse from Hebron Hospital, cradling a 2-week-old, premature baby swaddled in blankets.
The mother couldn’t come to the hospital to breast-feed her baby because of the curfew and the nurse wanted to give the baby to his mother in the camp.
The soldiers said no. The ambulance returned to the hospital with the baby.
Palestinian moderates said Wednesday that they feared for the peace process.
The grisly bombings that killed 57 innocents might cost Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, an architect of the Israel-PLO peace agreement, the next election, predicted Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian peace negotiator.
Even if Peres won, the damage was already done, Khatib said.
Israel’s current crackdown, ordered in part to reassure a traumatized Israeli public, has turned many middle-of-the-road Palestinians against peacemaking and eroded the standing of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, he said.
``This creates an atmosphere conducive to violence on our side,″ Khatib warned.
Israeli army Col. Moshe Eldad, the top liaison officer with Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, said Israel had not violated the letter of the peace agreement in the last few days.
Troops have stayed out of ``Area A,″ the seven West Bank towns under full Palestinian control. They have been deployed only in ``Area B,″ the rural areas that became quasi-autonomous fall and make up 22 percent of the West Bank.
Under the agreement, the army has overriding control over security in those areas, while Palestinian police there are in charge of public safety, Eldad said.
``When there is a need for security action from our side, we have the right to come and take over, whatever the circumstances,″ Eldad said.
The colonel said the siege would be lifted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. starting Thursday, to allow Palestinians to reach their jobs. He dismissed Palestinian complaints that the restrictions constituted collective punishment.
To many Palestinians, who witnessed the departure of Israeli troops from most villages last fall, the siege and the renewed patrols were a step back from their goal of establishing a Palestinian state.
Muslim hard-liners opposed to the autonomy plan from the outset said Wednesday that the renewed confrontation showed what they knew all along _ that peace wasn’t working.
``We need another solution,″ said Ahmed Mahmoud, 22, a computer science major at the College of Engineering and Technology in Hebron.
The college was one of six institutions closed down by Israel on suspicion of ties to the Muslim militant group Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Mahmoud said the solution was simple.
``The Jews should go back where they came from. The solution is all of Palestine″ for the Palestinians, he said.