Palestinian’s Killing Deals Blow to Peace Hopes

 

Friday  July 04, 2003

Nazir Majally • Asharq Al-Awsat

NABLUS, West Bank, 4 July 2003 — Hopes of peace were dealt a blow yesterday when a Palestinian activist group threatened to end its freeze on anti-Israeli attacks after one of its members was shot dead and a Jewish settlement was targeted by a rocket attack. “We warn the Zionist enemy and tell it that we will not remain silent in the face of cowardly operations against our people,” Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed offshoot of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group, said in a statement.

“If the enemy carries on with its criminal operations, its assassinations and arrests of our resistance fighters, our response will be very tough,” the group said. The statement was less strident than threats earlier in the day by militants at the funeral of Mahmoud Shawa, 31, who was shot dead overnight in the West Bank as he resisted arrest by Israeli troops.

As 5,000 people gathered in the streets of the northern town of Qalqilya to pay their last respects, militants promised quick revenge and said they were no longer bound by the truce. The group issued a statement Monday saying it would respect a truce announced by other militant groups and Fatah a day earlier. Among other things, the cease-fire is conditioned on Israel ending its targeted killing of militants.

The peace process was also undermined by the anti-Israeli rocket attack in the Gaza Strip, which prompted a formal protest by Israel to Palestinian authorities. The Israelis closed the main north-south Gaza highway for several hours in the morning, after three rockets were fired at the settlement of Kfar Darom, lightly injuring three Israelis.

That attack also drew the condemnation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Three Palestinians were also wounded when Israeli troops posted near the road opened fire on cars piling up at a checkpoint, Palestinian security sources and witnesses added.

Israel formally handed over control of the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday following a similar withdrawal from part of northern Gaza three days earlier.

But on a more encouraging note for peacemaking, Israel freed a senior security official and 33 other Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians regard the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as vital for the success the truce. Israel freed Col. Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, the third-ranking commander of the Gaza Palestinian Preventive security forces. He had been suspected by Israel of involvement in attacks on Israelis and he was allowed back into Gaza. Israel also released 33 prisoners who the army said had served their terms. They were taken by bus to Hebron.

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