Militants kill top colonel in Hebron ambush

Israeli armoured vehicles poured into Hebron last night, as it emerged that nine of the 12 Israelis killed in an ambush here on Friday were soldiers or members of the paramilitary border police.

Israeli armoured vehicles poured into Hebron last night, as it emerged that nine of the 12 Israelis killed in an ambush here on Friday were soldiers or members of the paramilitary border police.

Palestinian residents of Hebron awoke to a strict curfew today, with Israeli tanks patrolling most streets in both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the city.

Among those killed in the ambush was the Israeli army commander in Hebron, Colonel Dror Weinberg – the most senior officer to die in the two-year intifada. The other three dead were armed Jewish settlers who had rushed to the help of the soldiers.

The killings, the work of Palestinian militants most Israelis thought were all but beaten by sheer military force, are a body blow to the Israeli army. It appears it may have been the work of only three gunmen, who were all killed in the fighting. The hardline militant group Islamic Jihad took responsibility.

In Hebron yesterday it was clear that the ambush was meticulously planned. Palestinian gunmen first attacked a border police jeep patrolling the area, the Israeli army said. Then, when soldiers ran after the gunmen, they fell back into the narrow lanes, leading the army into a trap. The fighting went on for more than an hour and a half.

Blood was still smeared across the road in Wadi Nasara, the Valley of the Christians, where the ambush took place. Surgical gloves lay on the streets where ambulance crews had tried to save the wounded.

The road here is popularly known as "Worshippers' Lane" among Jews, because it is used by Jewish settlers to walk through Palestinian districts of Hebron to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites in the West Bank, sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

The road runs through a narrow valley. Up the steep slope on one side lies Hebron's Old City and the Tomb. On the other are the modern blocks and security fence of the Jewish settlement of Qiryat Arba, with Palestinian houses close by. It is a prime spot for an ambush.

Palestinians in Hebron seethe with resentment. They are often forced to remain under curfew in their houses, so that settlers can walk safely through the streets. About 450 settlers have moved into the Old City, and are slowly taking over more and more of it as Palestinians are forced out.

To protect the settlers, there was a routine. On Friday nights, when they went to pray at the Tomb, security forces were stationed in Wadi Nasara to protect the settlers, while border police vehicles patrolled the streets of Palestinian houses to the side.

It was a routine that had taken place many times before, and the gunmen must have known it well. At 7.30pm, the border police jeep was attacked by two men. Hamoud Jabr, a local Palestinian, said he heard the gunmen throw a grenade at the jeep. The blast broke through its armour plating, killing the four border police inside.

Meanwhile, the army said, a third gunman started firing on "Worshippers' Lane". Colonel Noam Tibon, who took over from the dead Col Weinberg, recounted yesterday how soldiers ran after the gunmen into a carefully laid trap.

This was not a "Sabbath Massacre" of civilians, as the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed on Friday. None of the dead were worshippers. Most would have returned to Qiryat Arba before the attack took place, which would explain why only soldiers and those helping them were killed.

Islamic Jihad have often targeted, and mercilessly killed, Israeli civilians, but the deaths of so many uniformed men will be much more of a shock to ordinary Israelis than an massacre of unarmed settlers. Many Israelis resent the extremist behaviour of settlers in Hebron, which they believe is damaging chances of peace, and many soldiers resent being forced to guard them.

"The Palestinians definitely have reason to worry about the response of the settlers," said Jonathan Stern, a resident of Qiryat Arba. There were murmurings that the settlers were planning their own revenge; it would not be the first time settlers have attacked Palestinian civilians in Hebron. "This is a huge problem. We will do whatever we can to bring law and order," Colonel Tibon said yesterday.

But the first Israeli retribution was already visible. As the colonel spoke, a Palestinian woman shouted angrily from the rubble of her house nearby. The Israeli army demolished it, he said, because the gunmen had fired from its windows. When asked whether the family who lived in the house had anything to do with the attack, his answer was revealing. "Yes and no," he said. "This war is an ugly war. Sometimes both sides take steps" – he hesitated – "which are really tough".

There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli government last night because of the Jewish Sabbath, but Ariel Sharon's government will come under pressure to retaliate harshly.

There are already renewed calls for Yasser Arafat to be expelled – something the United States has made clear it does not want at the moment. But with the army already in most West Bank cities, the Israelis are running out of options.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map