West Bank sealed off after two Israelis are shot dead

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The Independent Online
Israel has sealed off the 2.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza after Palestinians killed two Israelis and critically wounded a third in an attack inside Israel. It is the first time civilians have been killed since Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government took office.

The Israeli government demanded that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and the Palestinian Authority act immediately against guerrilla groups in areas under its authority. The limited reopening of Israel to Palestinian workers, which came into force this week, was immediately thrown into reverse and Palestinians were told to leave Israel by 10am yesterday.

Uri Munk, 60, and his daughter-in-law Rachel, 25, were killed when their car came under fire from a passing vehicle at Tirosh, 10 miles from the West Bank. Mr Munk's son, Zeev, received head wounds, and his wife was treated for shock. The family lived in the village of Mevo Beitar.

An Israeli couple were killed in the same area last month and police say both attacks were carried out by Palestinian militants based in Hebron, the last town on the West Bank still occupied by Israel. Israeli soldiers stopped people entering or leaving the city yesterday.

Mustafa Natche, the mayor of Hebron, denounced the shooting, saying it gave Israel an excuse further to delay its troop withdrawal from the city, originally set for March.

Mr Netanyahu won the election in May by promising peace with security. The shooting is his first opportunity to show he can do better than the previous government. And if Mr Netanyahu is looking for a reason not to withdraw from Hebron, release Palestinian prisoners or to meet Mr Arafat, the attack will give him an excuse.

Meanwhile, the disclosure of how the Shin Bet security agency killed two Palestinians who attacked a bus 12 years ago reopened an old scandal. Ehud Yatom, a former Shin Bet member, admitted he smashed their skulls with a rock on orders from the head of the agency. He said they would have died anyway because they had been so badly beaten by, among others, General Yitzhak Mordechai, who has just been appointed Defence Minister.

In an interview with the daily Yediot Aharonot, Mr Yatom, who has just retired, gave the facts behind the takeover of Bus 300, with 40 Israeli hostages, by four Palestinians on 12 April 1984. It was stormed by an Israeli unit and two of the Palestinians and one Israeli woman were killed.

The army said all four Palestinians died but a photograph showed two of them alive, walking away from the bus. After an inquiry it was admitted they were killed later, and Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet, was forced to resign.

Mr Yatom told how the two men, cousins called Subahi and Majdi Abu Jama, were beaten during interrogation: General Mordechai, then a paratroop commander at the scene, "did things in uniform which he should not have done. He them terrible blows with the stock of his pistol". At the time, the Shin Bet tried to pin all the blame on the general.

Mr Yatom said he put the Palestinians, on stretchers, into a van. "On the way I received an order from Avraham Shalom to kill the men, so I killed them."

Yesterday a former Shin Bet member said: "What Yatom did was a betrayal of the organisation as a whole." Yossi Sarid, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, said Mr Yatom was "the vermin of Israeli society, the rotten fruit of a military mentality devoid of values, which gives Israel's struggle for self-defence a bad name".