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Tensions rise as Israel kills senior PLO leader
Aug 27 2001
A senior PLO leader has been killed when Israeli helicopters fired two rockets at his office in retaliation for several bombings in Israel.
Mustafa Zibri, 63, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was the highest-ranking Palestinian official killed in a targeted Israeli attack in 11 months of fighting.
The Palestinian Authority said Israel "has opened the gates to an all-out war" and accused it of escalating violence that claimed the lives of seven Israelis and four Palestinans over the weekend.
Zibri, who led the second-largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was also the most senior PLO figure to be killed since Israeli commandos shot dead Khalil Al-Wazir in his Tunis home in 1988.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's aides held the US indirectly responsible for the killing of Zibri.
At the time of the helicopter attack, Zibri was in his second-floor Ramallah apartment which doubled as PFLP headquarters.
Rockets went through two corner windows, killing Zibri instantly, doctors and security officials said.
One of Zibri's deputies, Abdel Rahim Malouh, was slightly hurt by shrapnel.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Ephraim Sneh said Zibri was involved in seven bomb attacks in the past six months, was planning more bombings and was a "legitimate and necessary target".
Arafat announced a three-day mourning period.
Thousands of angry Palestinians poured into the streets of West Bank towns, vowing revenge.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 27, 2001
Aug. 27, 08:20 EDT Israeli forces move into Palestinian village Incursion comes hours after top PFLP militant is assassinated RELATED LINKS · Raid on Israeli outpost kills 3 (Aug. 26) · Intifadah's cost: 600 Palestinians dead (Aug. 25) · Israeli helicopters strike West Bank (Aug. 22) · The Star's Sandro Contenta in the Middle East · The Jerusalem Post · The Palestine Report · Mideast Web for Peace and Education · Ha'aretz online (English) JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli tanks rolled into a Palestinian village on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem early Tuesday in response to Palestinian gunmen firing on an Israeli neighbourhood.
The nighttime incursion into the village of Beit Jalla came hours after the assassination of a top Palestinian leader.
The Israeli forces were seeking to halt the frequent shooting from Beit Jalla on nearby Gilo, a Jewish neighbourhood built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
After a heavy exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli forces, the tanks rumbled into the village. In Beit Jalla, mosque loudspeakers called on people to take to the streets to resist the Israelis.
On Monday, raising the stakes in the Middle East conflict, Israeli helicopters fired a pair of rockets through office windows and assassinated Mustafa al Zibri, the highest-ranking Palestinian slain in years.
Thousands of angry protesters poured into the streets and a red-eyed Palestinian President Yasser Arafat declared three days of mourning for Zibri, 63, leader of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The PFLP is a faction of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization.
In immediate retaliation, PFLP gunmen killed an Israeli in an ambush on a car in the West Bank.
The Palestinians said Israel was waging an "all-out war," while Israel said Zibri was involved in bombing attacks and was planning more.
Throughout the 11 months of Palestinian uprising, Israel has targeted Palestinians believed responsible for attacks against its soldiers and civilians, but most were considered midlevel operatives, such as bombmakers.
The latest killing took place barely 200 metres from Arafat's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
Zibri, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, headed "an active and deadly terrorist organization," said Ephraim Sneh, Israel's transportation minister and a retired general. Zibri was involved in seven bomb attacks in the past six months, including a blast last week in central Jerusalem, he said.
Zibri's group had claimed responsibility for the attacks shortly after they took place. The army said no one was killed in those attacks.
Upon hearing the news of Zibri's death, Arafat, who was in Gaza City, withdrew to his office for about half an hour, his aides said.
Arafat later greeted Palestinian demonstrators who shook his hand and kissed him on the cheeks. They included the leaders of militant groups that have carried out the deadliest bombing attacks against Israel, including Abdullah Shami of Islamic Jihad and, according to sources, Sheik Ahmed Yassin of Hamas.
Before the Palestinian uprising began, Arafat's security forces had jailed Shami on several occasions and cracked down on group members. But the security forces have refused Israeli requests to arrest militants during the uprising, which has brought together Palestinian groups previously at odds.
The Palestinian Authority said in a statement that "with its latest criminal act, the Israeli government confirms that it has decided to open the doors to an all-out war."
Nabil Aburdeneh, an Arafat adviser, accused U.S. President George W.Bush of a pro-Israeli bias that, he said, encouraged Israel to carry out the killing.
"This policy of assassinations which is being conducted with a green light from the United States will push the area into a new cycle of violence and danger," Aburdeneh said.
The United States has condemned the targeted killings. However, Bush has been sharply critical of Arafat, saying he could do more to rein in militants.
Dore Gold, an Israeli government spokesman, said Zibri "may himself not have been an operative in the field, but was directly involved in an overall effort by the PFLP to engage in bombings in Jerusalem."
In an outpouring of anger, Palestinians marched in the streets of West Bank towns in the hours after the killing. In Arabe, Zibri's home village in the northern West Bank, about 5,000 people marched, led by gunmen firing in the air.
In a first retaliation, the PFLP claimed responsibility for killing an Israeli in an ambush near the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh in the West Bank.
Zibri returned to the West Bank from exile in 1999, and became leader of the PFLP last year, taking over after the retirement of the group's founder, George Habash, who lives in Damascus, Syria.
The PFLP has opposed the strategy of the past decade's peace talks with Israel. But it does not insist on the elimination of the Jewish state, as the militants do.
According to Palestinian human rights activists, about 50 Palestinians have been killed in targeted Israeli attacks in the past 11 months. The victims have included women and children who were bystanders.
Zibri was the most prominent Palestinian to be killed in recent years.
In 1988, Israeli commandos shot and killed Khalil al Wazir, the PLO military chief, in a raid of his Tunis, Tunisia, home. In 1995, Fathi Shakaki, leader of Islamic Jihad, was gunned down outside a Malta hotel in an attack widely attributed to Israel.
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-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 27, 2001.
Dubai:Tuesday, August 28, 2001 Gulf News says: Merciless and unjustified | | 28-08-2001
Israel will rue the day it assassinated Abu Ali Mustafa. This leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, steered a more moderate line than his predecessor George Habash who many times denied the right of Israel to exist. Mustafa, though, recognising peace could not be achieved without compromise, moderated the PFLP stance and drew it towards Yasser Arafat's Oslo accord. It was a significant move by Mustafa and certainly not the actions of a terrorist, as claimed by Israel in justification of its assassination.
Israel, though, will say anything to justify its self-appointed right to act as judge, jury and executioner over Palestinian citizens. Its assassination of Mustafa, being claimed as defensible and will "save many Israeli lives", was in recrimination for the recent raid by two PFLP activists on an Israeli military camp. Israel has conceded the high death and injury rate was due to confusion by its troops as the activists were dressed in army fatigues. So it is likely the Israelis killed their own people but will not face up to it.
The American President, called upon by Arab states to intervene between the Palestinians and Israel, was quoted as saying Israel must use "restraint" in its actions against Palestinians. This is a very far cry from the harsh condemnation President Bush gave Arafat not two days before. It is now evident that asking the U.S. to assist in the peace talks is of no benefit to Palestinians or Arab nations while Bush is in the White House and Sharon is in power in Israel. Equally, both Israel and America must realise that it is no benefit asking Palestinians to back down while Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land illegally. There would be no conflict if Israel withdrew; something America and Israel have yet to understand.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 28, 2001.