Israel Limits Travel in West Bank After Deadly Drive-By Shootings
By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Israel imposed new travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank on Monday and suspended contacts with the Palestinian Authority in response to two drive-by shootings that killed three young Israelis and wounded several other people a day earlier.
“When you have these attacks you can’t go on with business as usual,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “We want to send a clear message to the Palestinian leadership that they have to do more to prevent violence.”
The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, visited both Egypt and France on Monday as part of a five-nation trip that is to include a meeting with President Bush in Washington on Thursday. Abbas is trying to build support for a resumption of full-scale negotiations based on the Middle East peace plan, known as the road map.
But Israel has demanded that Abbas first break up the armed Palestinian factions, before any full-scale talks. Abbas has sought to use persuasion, rather than his security forces, to deal with the factions. Several armed groups have pledged to observe a truce, though Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen still clash almost daily.
Abbas, speaking before a meeting in Paris with the French president, Jacques Chirac, said he was sorry for the shootings on Sunday.
“We know certain people want to undermine us and carry out acts such as these which harm us,” he said, according to Reuters. “As for relations and contacts with the Israelis, we are completely certain they are going to resume very rapidly because there are many things we can tackle with the Israelis and which must be discussed.”
Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group linked to Abbas’ Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the shooting on Sunday that killed the three Israelis and wounded others at a hitchhiking post on Route 60, a main road near the Gush Etzion Jewish settlements in the West Bank, several miles south of Jerusalem.
The three, Kinneret Mandel, 23, and Matat Adler, 21, who were cousins, and Oz Ben-Meir, 15, were buried Monday. In a second shooting Sunday in the northern West Bank, near the Jewish settlement of Eli, an Israeli teenager was wounded.
The Israeli military said it did not have evidence that the shootings were coordinated, though they took place within an hour of each other about 20 miles apart along Route 60, the main north-south artery in the West Bank. The road connects the main Palestinian cities and is also widely used by Jewish settlers.
Israel’s military announced that two stretches of the road, one to the south of Jerusalem and one to the north, would be closed to private Palestinian vehicles. Palestinian taxis, ambulances and other public vehicles would still be allowed, the military said.
Israel’s military also stepped up its presence in and around the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Hebron, which are close to the sites of the shootings on Sunday.
While the overall level of violence is down, Israeli security officials say they believe that the Palestinian factions are likely to concentrate future attacks in the West Bank.