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Jewish Group Kills 3 Palestinians

July 19, 2001

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HEBRON, West Bank (AP) _ Three Palestinians, including an infant, were shot and killed Thursday in an attack claimed by a Jewish extremist group. The killings came as the world’s most powerful nations called for monitors to be sent to the region to help implement a cease-fire.

Witnesses said Israeli settlers opened fire on a Palestinian car near the Palestinian village of Idna, west of Hebron, killing three people and wounding four. A Jewish extremist group called the Road Safety Group claimed responsibility, Israel radio reported.

Akram Etnizi, a relative of the victims, said he was in a nearby car and watched as ``one settler stepped up to the car and started shooting, and then drove away.″

Israeli police spokesman Rafi Yaffe said gunfire at the Palestinian vehicle came from another car, which fled the scene.

Israel television said an Israeli car ran an army roadblock nearby and escaped into Israel after the shooting.

If settlers were responsible, it was the most serious attack by Jewish civilians against Palestinians in nearly 10 months of Palestinian-Israeli fighting. Settlers have been frequent targets of Palestinian gunmen on West Bank roads, and have been retaliating by destroying Palestinian property and burning fields.

The Road Safety Group has appeared off and on over the last 15 years and is identified with Kach, and extremist Jewish group outlawed by the Israeli government because of its anti-Palestinian actions.

The three dead were from the same family. They were identified as Mohammed Salameh Etnizi, 22, Mohammed Hilmy Etnizi, 20, and 3-month-old Amira Wael Etnizi.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office issued a statement ``condemning all forms of terror″ and pledging to ``do everything possible to apprehend those responsible.″

The settlers’ leadership council issued a statement saying that if an Israeli was responsible, the council ``strongly denounces the despicable act″ and warned that it could cause damage to the settlement movement.

West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub said the shooting proved that ``settlers and settlements are cancers that should be removed.″

Nabil Aburdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Israel was responsible for the shooting attack.

Earlier in the day, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight, who are meeting in Italy, endorsed the idea of sending observers to the region as a step toward putting an end to the violence.

Though Palestinians praised the Group of Eight nations’ show of support, the call contains a key caveat _ both must approve sending monitors. Sharon, while repeating Israel’s opposition, said the most important point was that ``this won’t be done through coercion.″

In a telephone conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel opposes posting observers, because they would give the Palestinians the impression that ``they can continue violence behind an international shield,″ according to a statement from Ben-Eliezer’s office.

Arafat described the G-8 ministers decision as ``the good start to ensure peace and security for both the Israelis and the Palestinians,″ the official Palestinian news agency reported.

The United States generally has accepted Israel’s long-standing position against third-party monitors, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his colleagues said Thursday that they all were in agreement.

Foreign ministers of the G-8, who are meeting in Italy, said the presence of monitors could help toward implementing the report of an international commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, aimed at stopping nearly 10 months of violence and restarting peace talks.

A cease-fire negotiated by CIA director George Tenet last month failed to end the violence. Each side has blamed the other for violations.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said there is an idea in the works to include Europeans, Americans, Israelis and Palestinians in observing and supervising the cease-fire.

Shaath said the idea is to set up a committee similar to the five-nation panel established after a 1996 Israeli bombing raid on Lebanon. That panel heard complaints from both sides alleging breeches of a U.S.-brokered agreement to protect civilians.

Sharon aide Raanan Gissin doubted Israel would accept a Lebanon model. ``Each side submitted its reports, but the shooting continued,″ he said.

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