The always volatile Middle East erupted in fresh turmoil during October as several grave developments signaled that a new round of conflict could be brewing in the region.
Palestinian terrorists opened fire south of Jerusalem in mid-October, killing three young Israeli civilians and wounding several others. This led to renewed travel restrictions on Arabs residing in the area and the temporary suspension of security talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials. Twelve days later, an Islamic Jihad suicide terrorist slaughtered five customers at a falafel stand in the Israeli coastal town of Hadera. The attack prompted the Sharon government to halt all contacts with Palestinian officials while launching a new military offensive against the radical group and its allies.
Just hours before the Hadera atrocity, Iran's new hard-line president called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth. Israeli officials replied that the nuclear-bomb-seeking Islamic regime should be expelled from the United Nations. They also warned Damascus that it must close down Islamic Jihad offices in the Syrian capital or risk possible Israeli reprisals. Meanwhile fresh Palestinian missile strikes were launched into sovereign Israeli territory from the Israeli-evacuated Gaza Strip. Israeli artillery and air strikes replied to the rocket firings while army forces prepared for a possible ground offensive into the small coastal zone.
Just before the new terrorist onslaught began, Israeli government leaders expressed serious concern over escalating Palestinian unrest in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the unilateral Israeli civilian and military withdrawals from the area. October began with the worst internal Palestinian clashes in the area in nearly a decade. This came as the ruling Fatah party won a majority of contested council seats in West Bank municipal elections, but lost control in some places to the rival Hamas movement. As the Palestinian ferment boiled over, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon worked like a bulldozer to repair his fractured Likud party political base after narrowly defeating his opponents in a technical vote held in late September.
PALTESTIANS STEP UP ATTACKS
Palestinian militants fired dozens of Kassam rockets and mortar shells into Israeli towns and farming communities around the Gaza Strip during October, with one landing on Sharon's Negev farm. The barrage came on the heels of a full week of such firings that began soon after Israeli military forces completed their final withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on September 13th. Israeli helicopter gunships were subsequently ordered into quick action, targeting missile firing positions along with several prominent Hamas leaders. On the ground, around 200 known Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists were arrested in Judea and Samaria in an apparent attempt to put additional pressure on their fellow Gaza Strip jihadists to quell the rocket barrage.
The Israeli military action came after PM Sharon vowed to use "all means" to halt the continuing rocket attacks. He issued the same warning when a new wave of rockets hit the besieged Israeli town of Sderot in late October. Defense officials then stepped up preparations to unleash a full-scale army operation in the northern Gaza Strip if the rocket and mortar firings do not cease. After the first round of attacks in early October, Major General Yisrael Ziv warned that Israeli artillery could be directed at civilian Palestinian homes in northern Gaza firing zones, effectively turning the area into a decimated "demilitarized zone."
Adding significant weight to the stern verbal warnings, Israeli helicopters were sent into action several times during October. The senior Islamic Jihad commander in the southern Gaza Strip, Muhammad Khalil, was targeted and killed by Israeli missiles, along with his personal bodyguard. Islamic Jihad leaders said it was the fifth time Khalil had been caught in the crosshairs of IDF fire; having survived four other attempts to eliminate him.
The top Islamic Jihad commander in the contested territories, Muhammad
al Hindi, reacted to the slayings by vowing to step up deadly homicide
bombings: "There is no longer any talk of a truce with the Zionist
enemy. There is only room for war." The army later issued a statement
confirming that it had carried out the air operation, detailing the
attacks that Khalil's Muslim terror cells had perpetrated in recent
years which left 17
Israelis dead and many other wounded, most of them civilians.
Palestinian Authority officials finally got the message that they faced a humiliating military defeat, if not the collapse of their overall rule, if they did not immediately reign in the radical Muslim forces operating like rogue armies in their midst. They worked overtime to secure a commitment from Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders to halt rocket firings upon Israeli civilian centers. This came after the United States and several other nations called upon the elected Palestinian leadership to stop the illegal firings forthwith or risk massive Israeli retaliation, which they indicated they would at least sympathize with, if not actively support.
PA officials had earlier received a severe wake up call when radical militiamen brazenly murdered General Musa Arafat, a senior PA Gaza Strip security official and a well known nephew of the late PLO chairman. He was physically dragged out of his home and shot at point blank range as outnumbered PA forces watched in horror. Musa Arafat's son was then captured and reportedly murdered after being taken to another location.
The execution-style killings prompted livid PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to cancel plans to attend an international summit meeting at UN headquarters in New York. Instead of rubbing shoulders with world leaders in America, Abbas met with top Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders and ordered them to halt banned missile firings or face a massive clampdown from armed PA forces. PA leaders earlier thought they had secured such a pledge from their Hamas counterparts, but the published vow proved hallow as additional rockets rained down on Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip throughout October. Still, in the wake of internal Palestinian clashes that rocked the Gaza Strip in late September, Abbas took no further action to suppress the terrorist groups. Two weeks after the unprecedented intra-Palestinian fighting, which left dozens of PA security forces and Hamas followers dead or wounded, PA officials admitted that-just like the first violent Palestinian uprising of 1988-93-more Palestinians were slain by fellow Arabs during the first nine months of 2005 than had perished at the hands of Israelis.
Internal Palestinian tensions reached a fever pitch soon after Hamas released a horrific video taken just before a kidnapped Israeli worker from Jerusalem was murdered in cold blood by the group. In the footage, the bound and blindfolded victim was seen being questioned in front of a large Hamas flag about his alleged "spying" activities on Israel's behalf. The Al Qaida style video deeply angered Israeli authorities and the general public. The ugly action added to Israeli security warnings that Hamas was planning a new terrorist offensive in the run-up to Palestinian legislative elections, currently scheduled for January 25th. American officials later warned that the ballot could be ruined if Hamas terrorists continue to carry out violent attacks against Israeli civilians.
HOLIDAY SHOOTING SPREE
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