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.

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Just as Israelis were making final preparations for the annual Feast of Tabernacles festival in mid-October, Palestinian gunmen carried out a drive by shooting on a bus stop located at the Gush Etzion junction eight miles south of Jerusalem. Two female cousins waiting there were instantly killed, along with a 15 year old boy. Several civilians standing next to the bus stop were wounded. The cousins-21 year old Matat Adler, who had been married only two months earlier, and 23 year old Kinneret Mandel-were on their way to visit friends in Jerusalem when the terrorist bullets struck them. Oz Ben Meir, the slain male teenager, was also hitchhiking into the Israeli capital city along with most of the wounded victims. Authorities suspected that the terrorists fled in their Subaru to the nearby PA-controlled town of Bethlehem, which was later sealed off by Israeli soldiers. Subsequent reports indicated that the murderers found sanctuary in the Judean hills around Hebron.

Just 45 minutes after the Gush Etzion atrocity, Palestinian gunmen in another car fired on two young Israelis walking near the Jewish community of Eli north of Jerusalem. The bullets struck one of the pedestrians in the liver and chest, leaving him critically wounded. Israeli soldiers conducted searches in the area, but no trace was found of the perpetrators.

The Fatah-linked Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades claimed "credit" for both of the cowardly assaults, which Israeli officials said were probably coordinated in advance. However, security analysts said Hamas terrorists were most likely the culprits in the Gush Etzion attack even though Hamas leaders had promised Mahmoud Abbas early this year that their followers would desist from such violence. They noted that the attack closely resembled earlier ones carried out by the extremist Muslim group. Still, the fact that the Al Aksa Brigades claimed responsibility was seen as another grave indication of just how little control Abbas actually wields over the various terrorist outfits openly operating in his PA-ruled zones.

Within hours of the late afternoon shootings, Ariel Sharon convened an emergency cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz then issued a severe warning to Abbas: Either you take serious steps to nip such attacks in the bud or Israel will do so. To add weight to his words, Mofaz announced the temporary suspension of high level security talks between Palestinian and Israeli officials. "We want the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue, but we can't talk if the PA does not begin taking significant and active steps against the terrorist organizations," Mofaz declared.

Government ministers backed his proposal to clamp an immediate closure on Judea and Samaria, re-imposing blockades lifted earlier this year on most Palestinian towns. That action was later criticized by US officials as too harsh a response to the drive by attacks. But Sharon-still feeling intense Likud party heat over his unilateral evacuation of 25 Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria-replied that he would not countenance a return to the widespread violence that rocked the disputed territories prior to the 2004 unveiling of the unilateral withdrawal plan, reinforced by stepped up construction of a controversial security barrier running along or near Israel's pre-1967 borders.


When an Islamic Jihad terrorist from northern Samaria slaughtered five Israelis-including two Arab citizens-on October 26th in Hadera, Sharon halted all contacts with Abbas, saying he would not deal with the PA leader until he finally took decisive steps to disarm and dismantle the terror groups running riot in his zones of control. The livid Israeli leader also announced an "all out offensive" against the terror groups, which was quickly followed by additional Israeli helicopter strikes on Palestinian targets and the stationing of additional troops and equipment near the tense Gaza border.

Deputy Premier and Labour party leader Shimon Peres denounced the decision to cut off contact with Abbas, maintaining it left no one to deal with but the terrorists and their sponsors. Some political analysts said the apparent Israeli cabinet rift signaled the imminent end of the alliance Peres made with Sharon to push through the Gaza withdrawals. They said national elections scheduled for November 2006 would be moved forward if the Likud-Labour unity government collapses.

Israeli analysts said the apparent PA inability to fully curb the rebel rocket firings and terrorist assaults stemmed from the basic fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders were too busy crowing about their ostensible victory over Israel to pay serious attention to weak PA leaders. Both radical Muslim groups staged huge rallies to celebrate what they termed "the Zionist defeat" in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, so did the ruling Fatah movement, but its parades were not nearly as well attended.

Hamas continued gloating well into October, staging another large rally mid-month designed to show off weapons it said had been smuggled by its henchmen into Gaza from the Egyptian-ruled Sinai desert. Hamas commander Fathi Hamad gave a stirring speech in which he adamantly rejected PA calls for the Islamic fundamentalist group to disarm-instead pledging to build up illegal weapons arsenals for eagerly anticipated future clashes with the detested "Zionist enemy." Another Hamas leader warned Abbas that he would not come out on top in any armed contest with the militant group, adding mockingly that even Israel could not dismantle Hamas terrorist units when it controlled the Gaza Strip.

Just before Abbas departed for an October 21st meeting with George Bush at the White House-where the President portrayed the PA leader as "devoted to peace"-PA security chief Jibril Rajoub revealed that Abbas "has not called for disarming anyone," adding that "There is no decision to collect so-called illegal weapons, and we have taken no steps in that direction." The candid announcement caused dismay at the State Department, which has long championed Abbas as a 'moderate' politician who would finally put paid to Palestinian terrorist attacks upon Israeli civilians. Following the Hadera homicide attack, Hamas leaders brazenly declared that they would now join their Islamic Jihad comrades in launching a new round of terror assaults against Israeli civilians.


Syria's ruling Baathist regime was pounded by international condemnations during October after the release of a United Nations preliminary report linking top Syrian officials to the Valentine's Day car bomb slaying of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. The report concluded that the assassination was carried out under direct orders from Damascus, naming the Syrian intelligence chief-who is a brother in law of the dictator Bashar Assad-as a leading suspect in the plot. The United States and France were among several countries that called for possible UN sanctions against Syria as a result of the vicious political murder.

Meanwhile tensions intensified between Israel and Syria following the Hadera terror attack. Israeli officials repeated earlier demands that Assad shut down Islamic Jihad offices in Damascus or risk Israeli military action to do so. This came as US officials once again demanded that Assad's regime immediately halt the infiltration of insurgent Sunni fighters into blood-soaked Iraq. Assad earlier appeared on CNN to contend that he could not stop the flow of jihad fighters into neighboring Iraq despite the known fact that many Mideast insurgents enter Syria via the international airport in Damascus.

Syria's close ally, Iran, raised the temperature in the region by several degrees when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly declared that "the Zionist State must be wiped off of the map." Despite a torrent of rebukes from many nations, the Shiite Muslim leader later defended his call while marching with anti-Israel demonstrators in Teheran. Israeli officials said they were concerned that the horrific statement, coming just hours before Iran's puppet Palestinian terror group launched its deadly attack in Hadera, may signal a new wave or Iranian-sponsored violence against Israeli civilians, if not an major offensive by its proxy Hizbullah force in southern Lebanon. They warned that any significant Hizbullah action could spark a new Mideast conflict pitting Israel against the outlaw Lebanese militia, and with Syria and the Palestinians, which could easily draw in other countries.

October's disturbing Mideast developments should serve to remind us that the Lord's return to Jerusalem is drawing closer every day. May His people all around this troubled planet look upwards and declare with the saints of all time: "Come Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.