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Ariel Sharon: Israel Should "Exploit" Hebron Ambush

by Ferry Biedermann

Soldiers, not civilians were apparently target
(IPS) HEBRON -- A narrow alley in this holy city on the West Bank divided between Palestinians and Israeli settlers shows signs of heavy fighting. The alley is located between the Jewish settlement Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclave in the heart of Hebron.

Just around a bend in the alley, two houses have been completely destroyed. Next door, 19-year old Thawra Jaber shows the bullet holes inside the house where she lives with her mother and five brothers and sisters. "The soldiers came in and fired at the door behind which we were hiding," she says, pointing at the bullet-riddled door.

Despite early Israeli reports, there seems little evidence of any firing upon the Jewish worshippers said at first to have been the target of a Palestinian attack on Friday night. Soldiers say the settlers had already returned to Kiryat Arba after saying their prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, as they do every Friday night.

Four soldiers, five border policemen and three Kiryat Arba security guards on the trail Jewish worshippers use to reach a holy site in the centre of Hebron were killed in an attack Friday. A mother of seven was killed in firing in the area Monday.

Once again it seems that Palestinians in the general population will suffer. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and local leaders of the settlers have vowed to establish a corridor between the two Jewish populations.

Sharon told army officers on a tour of the area after the attack that Israel should "exploit" the situation by creating "territorial contiguity" between Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclave inside Hebron. This would mean a kilometre long road that would threaten hundreds of Palestinian homes.

Zvi Katzover, a local leader of the settlers, declared at the funeral for the Kiryat Arba security guards that he was planning to build a neighbourhood housing some one thousand Jews in that area. He said several dozen Palestinian homes may have to be demolished "to guarantee our security."

Several extreme right-wing leaders attended the funeral for the guards at Jerusalem's Givat Shaul cemetery in Deir Yassin village, where Jewish forces massacred Palestinians in 1948.

"Sharon is afraid to fight the Arabs, so he is fighting Jews," Baruch Merzel, a right-wing leader who wants all Palestinians expelled, said at the funeral. "They didn't like my ideas, they are afraid of the truth. This is our land." Merzel has a house in Hebron but the Israeli army has told him that he cannot enter Hebron.

Along the road between Kiryat Arba and the Hebron enclave, settlers have already set the corridor plan in motion. On one side of the road the army has cleared a field where tents and large metal containers have been set up.

"This is the only way to show that we will not give in to terror," says 20-year old Shimon Barak, reading a Jewish prayer book inside one of the containers. He says he has been waiting six months for a house in Hebron and that he will now seize this opportunity.

Across the road the army has cleared a wide patch of Palestinian land. Zuheir Kamal Jaber points to the bulldozer tracks alongside his house. "We had olive trees and grapes over there," he says. After the ambush the army uprooted the trees and the plants. "These are very hard times and we hardly have any income," he says. "We lived from that land but now it's gone."

Kiryat Arba is a settlement of several thousand people on the edge of Hebron. Another 450 settlers live in the heart of the city near the Cave of the Patriarchs where both Jews and Muslims pray.

They live among some 130,000 Palestinians, of whom some 20,000 still live under Israeli army control as a part of the security arrangements around the Jewish enclave. The arrangement is known as the Hebron accord signed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority in 1997. Sharon says that agreement is "no longer functional."

After the attack on Friday in which three attackers from the Islamic Jihad movement were also killed, the Israeli army reoccupied the whole of Hebron. The Israeli chief-of-staff says Islamic Jihad militants were able to operate freely in Hebron because of an earlier withdrawal. But the attack took place in an area under Israeli control.

Palestinians say that Israel is using the attack to justify re-occupation of Hebron. Zuheir Manasrah, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security on the West Bank says "what happened is their own responsibility." He denies that the Israelis had handed security over to his people.

Thawra Jaber says that Israeli troops patrol the neighborhood every Friday and Saturday to protect the settlers who use the nearby road. "There were never any problems, only last Friday,” she said. After the attack settlers told her family to pack and leave, or their house would be destroyed, she said.

A house on the corner of the alley has the blue stars of David and the slogan "Death to the Arabs" painted on its white shutters. An uncle of a victim from Kiryat Arba says he does not want revenge ”but we have to protect ourselves and make clear to the Palestinians that terror does not pay."

Thawra Jaber says it is possible to live in peace with Israel but not with the settlers. "They hate us too much," she says. "We can never live with them."

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Albion Monitor November 22 2002 (

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