The Israeli army carried out a deadly raid on Sunday in the heart of Ramallah, the West Bank seat of the Palestinian self-rule authority, escalating a campaign launched to find three missing Israeli youths that is placing the moderate Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, in an increasingly difficult position.
The campaign, in which more than 330 Palestinians have been arrested over 10 days, began after the three Israeli teenagers, Gil-Ad Shaer,16, Naftali Fraenkel,16 and Eyal Yifrach, 19, went missing near a West Bank settlement with Israel stating that they had been abducted by the militant Hamas movement.
The army, which has entered cities, villages and universities and shut down Hamas civilian institutions and charities, says the goals are to find information that could lead to the recovery of the youths and to deal a crippling blow to Hamas, which advocates Israel’s destruction.
But leading Israeli human-rights groups voiced concerns that the military is carrying out “collective punishment” of the Palestinian civilian population and said many of the army operations had no apparent connection to the kidnappings.
Israeli analysts have said Mr Abbas may be secretly satisfied that Hamas, his main competition for the allegiance of the Palestinian public, is taking a blow. But the longer this crisis goes on the more difficult his situation becomes.
In political terms, Mr. Abbas, 79, is out on a limb because he has continued to champion security coordination with the Israeli army at the same time that the military’s operation is taking a growing toll,
The death of a man in Ramallah, in addition to the reported death of another in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, brought the total number of Palestinians killed after the eruption of clashes this month to four.
After the raid in Ramallah, in which a Palestinian was killed and eight people were wounded, dozens of Palestinians hurled stones at a Palestinian police station, incensed about the security coordination with Israel and about the fact that they remained holed up in their station rather than join in confronting the invading Israeli forces. Stonethrowers chanted “collaborators, collaborators” at the police, witnesses said.
Ramallah residents interviewed on Sunday voiced understanding for the stonethrowers and dismay with Mr Abbas.
“People are mad at Mahmoud Abbas and at the whole authority. In 20 years of negotiation with Israel he got nothing; things only got worse,” said a retired university tutor of Arabic literature, who did want to give his name.
“We’re completely against the security cooperation. Abbas represents only himself on this.
“It’s natural that people threw stones at the police. The police should be there to protect Palestinians, not Israelis.” he added.
The killed Palestinian was identified by witnesses as Mohammed Ismail al-Tarifi, 30, a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
His friend Ahmed Alawreh, a teacher, stood outside the morgue at the Ramallah Medical Compound and recalled being imprisoned by Israel with him several times.
“He died while defending Ramallah and his people,” Mr Alawreh said.
He blamed the death on the security coordination with Israel, according to which Palestinian police stay off the streets while the Israeli army operates.
“Without this, it wouldn’t have happened. Mahmoud Abbas must stop this.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he has “unequivocal proof” of Hamas involvement in the abductions of the three teenagers. He said he is sharing this evidence with several countries and will make it public soon.
Mr Abbas, meanwhile, said he has “no credible information” Hamas was involved.
“When Netanyahu has such information, he needs to update me and we will take care of the matter according to our own laws,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Meanwhile, in an Israeli raid in Nablus yesterday, troops fired at stonethrowers, reportedly killing a man in his 20s, according to the Reuters news agency, quoting medics.
The Israeli army said soldiers fired at a suspect who approached them and did not respond to calls to stop.
Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said “the Israelis are provoking everybody. They are telling the Palestinians we can do whatever we want and get away with it and can enter Ramallah and everywhere else and kill people with impunity”.
Of Mr Abbas, she said: ‘’His position is already difficult to maintain. He’s already gone against public opinion. We’re moving towards the abyss. People are extremely angry at the leadership and at the Israelis.’’
Mr Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, denied there is any intent to harm the Palestinian public.
“The operation is designed to bring about the return of the three teens. We are following up intelligence information, going house to house. This is not against the Palestinian public. It is against the Hamas machine. Our forces only use their weapons in response to attacks against them.’’
Mr Regev said were it not for the abductions, troops would not carry out operations such as the entry to Ramallah.
A civilian vehicle in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was targeted by forces in neighboring Syria on Sunday in an attack that killed a 14-year-old boy and prompted tanks to retaliate by firing on Syrian government targets, the Israeli military said.