Israel arrests relatives of Palestinian attackers, destroys houses

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli soldiers destroyed houses of two Palestinians suspected in bloody terror attacks this week and arrested 13 relatives overnight, the military said Friday. Israel Radio reported that the fathers and brothers are to be expelled from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, reflecting new, harsh Israeli measures.

The two attacks _ a bus ambush in the West Bank and a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv _ were the first fatal strikes against Israeli civilians since Israeli forces moved into seven of the eight main Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank on June 20, after back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Friday that Israeli forces must remain in place to stop terror attacks, but appealed to the Palestinians to take control. Peres warned that Palestinians are facing starvation because of the harsh Israeli restrictions.

Another victim of the bus ambush near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank on Tuesday, Yocheved Ben-Hanan, 21, died in Tel Aviv hospital Thursday, police said, bringing the death toll to nine. Three bystanders, including two foreign workers, were killed in a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

A new group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement called Al-Nazir, or the warning, claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bombing, identifying the bombers as Mohammed Attala, 18, and Ibrahim Najie, 19, from the Balata refugee camp, next to Nablus.

Overnight, Israeli forces moved into the Askar refugee camp and the nearby village of Tel, near Nablus, the military and residents said.

In Tel, soldiers destroyed the house of Nasser Aseida, 26, leader of the Hamas military wing, suspected of organizing the bus ambush. Soldiers arrested his father and four brothers, and also detained relatives of two other wanted Hamas leaders, who are in hiding, like Aseida.

In a similar operation in the Askar refugee camp, soldiers destroyed the house of a leader of the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militia, Ali Ajouri, 23, badly damaging several nearby houses, residents said. Soldiers arrested Ajouri's father and two brothers, they said. Ajouri was not captured.

Altogether, the Israelis detained 13 men. In a statement, the military said the operation was ``part of the war against the terrorist infrastructure.'' Israel Radio reported that the men are to be expelled to Gaza if legal obstacles can be overcome. The report called the house destruction and planned expulsion a new, harsh policy in response to Palestinian attacks.

Peres, a veteran peace campaigner who supports talks with the Palestinians, said he would support the new measures if they win legal approval. However, he said, the best solution would be for the Palestinians to take over security themselves. ``At the moment and in the place that the Palestinians take responsibility for the rule of law, we will get out,'' he told Israel Radio, denying reports that Israeli forces plan to remain in the cities and towns until next year.

Palestinian officials say they are powerless to assume control because Israeli forces have imposed curfews in the main areas, preventing Palestinian security from operating.

Questions about the effectiveness of Israel's reoccupation of West Bank population centers in stopping terror attacks have begun to emerge after the two attacks in Israel this week.

In the Yediot Ahronot daily, dovish columnist Silvi Keshet wrote that the attacks were inevitable and Israeli leaders were aware of that. ``They knew very well that in this month of occupation, the people imprisoned in their homes would be preparing the next terror attacks, and that one day the pressure cooker would explode in our faces,'' she wrote.

Peres said that soldiers must remain where they are because ``the only way to stop terrorists is before they leave. Once they leave on their mission, it's too late.''

Palestinians charge that the harsh Israeli measures are further worsening the economic situation in the West Bank, leading to food shortages and the threat of starvation.

Peres admitted that ``there is a problem of malnutrition.'' He said a report was about to be published, outlining the severe hardships Palestinians are facing, ``but even without the report, we have no intention to bring the Palestinians to the point of starvation.''

He said that was the main reason to resume talks with top Palestinian officials, but he would not say when the contacts would take place.