Five Palestinian policemen killed, stations shelled
JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli troops killed five Palestinian policemen in the West Bank and rocketed security targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday – part of an emerging strategy of taking the offensive against Palestinian security forces, rather than retaliating for specific attacks.
The rocket attack in Gaza targeted a small armored force of the Palestinian police, and Palestinians said 10 vehicles were destroyed.
In previous Gaza raids, Israeli troops razed dozens of Palestinian police buildings, including ammunitions depots, food warehouses, mosques and carpentry shops affiliated with the security forces.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said the Israeli attacks were aimed at demoralizing the Palestinians and insisted his people ”cannot be shaken.” He denounced the killings of the policemen as ”assassinations.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he had implored Arafat in recent weeks to ”act against the perpetrators of terror.”
”If he doesn’t take these steps, then we will have to take these steps,” Sharon said. ”We don’t have any other choice.”
Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said the Palestinian Authority has been warned repeatedly that Israel would not tolerate the involvement of Palestinian security forces in attacks on Israelis.
”The Israeli Defense Forces has decided, with the approval of the government, to take initiated action … against those targets from where such attacks are being conducted,” Gissin said.
Over almost eight months of steadily escalating hostilities, Israel has wrestled with how harshly to hit back against the Palestinian forces it helped set up during the 1990s autonomy accords. Actions were generally described as reactions or retributions against specific militants.
In the West Bank violence, the Palestinian officers, ages 17 to 29, were shot in the head and chest before dawn Monday while manning a small police outpost near the town of Ramallah, Palestinian officials said. Several bullets tore through the barrack walls.
It was the bloodiest single incident since Feb. 14, when eight Israelis were killed by a Palestinian who crashed his bus into a crowd near Tel Aviv.
Gissin said Israeli soldiers were responding to fire but admitted that the five Palestinian officers killed may not have been the ones shooting. ”They could have remained alive if they had been the ones stopping terrorism instead of taking part in it,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli helicopters and navy gunboats shelled security installations, including a compound of the Force 17 security service, a police building and the offices of Arafat’s Fatah movement. Four people were injured by shrapnel and one suffered from shock, doctors said.
Israeli hard-liners, including Sharon, had long argued that Israel erred in permitting the establishment of the Palestinian security forces. And Israel has charged that the forces are much larger than permitted by the agreements and are using weapons they are not allowed to have.
Still, until the fighting erupted last fall, cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security was generally good and sometimes even comradely.
In October, when Israel first attacked Palestinian installations – in retaliation for the lynching of two reserve soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah – it gave warning to avoid casualties.
Since then, Palestinian forces have openly participated in shooting incidents and a militia affiliated with Arafat known as the Tanzim has been at the forefront of some.
The Palestinian police ”have to be attacked so we can protect our people,” Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat said Monday.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo called the Israeli attack on the five policemen a ”premeditated, cold-blooded murder” and said no gunfire came from the post, which he called a center for coordination with a nearby Israeli position.
Later, about 2,000 Palestinians, some firing rifles in the air, marched alongside an ambulance carrying the bodies of the policemen.
The Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces at a checkpoint and two Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire, hospital doctors said.
In other developments Monday, two Palestinians were killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers near Karara in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said. The Israeli military said soldiers fired at Palestinians who threw grenades and fired at an outpost. One was a suicide bomber, the military said.
Palestinians said Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Palestinian territory in three places, leveling farmland.
Also, four Israelis were wounded, one seriously, when Palestinians fired on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and declared a part of Jerusalem, but is claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.
Police said the gunfire was apparently timed to coincide with observance Tuesday of ”al-Nakba,” or ”the catastrophe,” as Arabs refer to the creation of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948.
An Israeli tank fired back at the gunmen in the Palestinian village of Beit Jalla, damaging a house, Palestinians said.
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