|Israel Resource Review
||14th May, 2002
Removing the PLO Occupation of
Follow-up on the End of the Siege of the Church of
Correspondent, The Washington Times
Bethlehem, Residents of this biblical city are
expressing relief at the exile to Cyprus last week of 13 hard-core
Palestinian militants, who they said had imposed a two-year reign of
terror that included rape, extortion and executions.
Exiled Palestinian militants ran two-year reign of terror
The 13 sent to Cyprus, as well as 26 others sent to the Gaza
Strip, had taken shelter in the Church of the Nativity, triggering a
39-day siege that ended Friday.
Palestinians who live near the church described the group as a
criminal gang that preyed especially on Palestinian Christians,
demanding "protection money" from the main businesses, which make and
sell religious artifacts.
According to Bethlehem residents, one of the group's top leaders,
Jihad Ja'ara, 29, traveled around town with an M-16 rifle, terrorizing
"Finally the Christians can breathe freely," said Helen, 50, a
Christian mother of four. "We are so delighted that these criminals
who have intimidated us for such a long time are now going away."
Others feared new gunmen will capitalize on the group's
disappearance and the pullout of Israeli troops.
"Will new gangs come in?" asked Samer, 33, from the Christian
suburb of Beit Jala in Bethlehem. "The gunmen will start taking
revenge on the weak, desperate people."
Residents also said that Mr. Ja'ara and another top leader,
Ibrahim Abayat, took nine Muslims whom they suspected of collaborating
with Israel into an apartment near Manger Square and fatally shot
The executions took place shortly before the April 2 gunbattle
between Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters that sent more than
200 Palestinians fleeing into the church, where they remained for 39
Abayat, in a phone interview from inside the church while the
siege was under way, said he was personally responsible for the
He said there was no need for a trial because "it was a
well-known fact that these people were linked to Israel."
Abayat and Mr. Ja'ara are now at a seaside hotel in Cyprus,
waiting to be moved to an as-yet-unnamed European country, where many
expect them to be set free.
The gang has said it is part of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a
militia linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that has claimed
responsibility for several recent suicide bombings in Israel.
Zuhair Hamdan, founder of the Movement for Coexistence in
Jerusalem, was sitting on a chair outside his corner shop near
Bethlehem in November when an official Palestinian Authority car drew
up with a squeal of brakes.
From the back window a gunman, who Mr. Hamdan says was a member
of the gang, emptied 12 bullets from a M-16 rifle, hitting him five
times in the abdomen, legs and neck.
Mr. Hamdan was so close to death in the hospital that he now
jokes, "They took my body to the cemetery but the cemetery rejected
Mr. Hamdan said seven members of the gang were involved. Five of
the seven assailants have since died, at least one of them fatally
shot by Israel during the recent church siege, he said.
"The remaining two gunmen are being kicked out of Bethlehem, but
wherever they end up, someone will get to them and make them pay for
all the awful things they've done," he said.
The gang apparently used its ready access to guns and close ties
with Mr. Arafat's Palestinian security forces to extort money, run
guns, smuggle drugs and even demand that young women separate from
After one woman was reportedly raped by a gang member, the
perpetrator was put in jail, but only briefly. His comrades reportedly
forced the jailers to let him go.
The gang's hostility toward Christians extended to a 17-year-old
altar boy fatally shot during an Israeli incursion in October.
A small stone monument the family erected in Johnny Talgieh's
memory on the spot in Manger Square where he died was kicked and spat
on by gang members, then toppled with ropes and cables and left
smashed on the ground.
"They did not want to recognize that a Christian could be
considered a [martyr]," said a family member, "even though having that
statue there would have given the Palestinian cause a huge propaganda
"They hate us Christians more than they love Palestine."
Even during the recent siege, gang members who had not fled into
the church continued to demand their regular 10 shekels (about $2)
from each taxi driver going in and out of a parking lot close to the
One who refused, saying he had no cash, was reportedly beaten up
The gang apparently operated under the full protection of Mr.
Arafat's Fatah organization and Tanzim, its military wing.
During the 19-month uprising, they have often fired into the
nearby Israeli suburb of Gilo from church grounds and the homes of
Palestinian Christians in Beit Jala.
When Palestinian gunmen would show up at the door, Christian
families often had no choice but to let their homes be used as sniper
posts and face the consequences of Israeli retaliation.
This piece ran in the Washington Times on May 14, 2002
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Next Chief of Staff
Foreign Ministry Acts Contrary to Government Decisions
Correspondent, Yedioth Ahronoth
The next IDF chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe (Bugi) Yaalon, criticized the Foreign Ministry, claiming: "The Foreign Ministry acts contrary to government decisions."
Recently, Yaalon told IDF officers that the Foreign Ministry was acting
against government decisions, since the government had determined that
Arafat was irrelevant, and despite that, the ministry continues, in its
activities throughout the world, to treat him as the legitimate chairman of
the Palestinian Authority. A few days ago, Minister Peres instructed
members of the Foreign Ministry to criticize terror, but not Arafat himself.
This is not the first time that Yaalon has criticized the Foreign
Ministry and its head, Shimon Peres. About a year ago severe criticism
against Peres was quoted in the name of "senior IDF officers," following
which the two held a meeting of reconciliation.
Other generals in the General Staff joined in the criticism and claimed
recently: "The IDF is acting according to government decisions and
presenting Arafat as a terrorist, while the Foreign Ministry is doing
exactly the opposite. The result is that the State of Israel is speaking in
two different voices, and Israeli public relations have been badly harmed."
Recently, the IDF upper echelons criticized the Foreign Ministry's consent
to the UN fact-finding team into events in the Jenin refugee camp, which
for now has been cancelled. Senior military sources said that Peres
"treated the subject of the fact-finding team with the greatest neglect and
could have brought terrible trouble on the IDF."
Foreign Ministry sources expressed amazement last night at the fact that
the deputy chief of staff believes that his job is to manage Israel's
diplomatic establishment. "He has enough to do in the military, and it is
better that he concentrate on that. If the chief of staff or his deputy
have any complaints, better that they raise them at the accepted forums and
not resort to mudslinging in the media," the sources
said. [ . . . ]
A senior official in the Foreign Ministry added: "It is a shame that
Bugi Yaalon is starting his career on the wrong foot and sticking his nose
into political matters."
This article ran in Yedioth Ahronoth on May 14, 2002
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