Tension rises after 2 Israelis killed, 4 injured in West Bank

 

TWO Israelis - a mother and son - were killed, and four more injured in a shooting in the West Bank last night, as relations between Israel and the Palestinians took another nose dive.

The shooting took place near the settlement of Beit El, north of Ramallah. Gunmen drew up alongside an Israeli civilian vehicle, opened fire, and sped away towards Ramallah. Mrs Ita Tzur (42), and her son, Ephraim (12), died of their wounds.

Settler leaders immediately urged the Israeli army to chase after the gunmen into Ramallah, a city now under the full control of Mr Yasser Arafat. Instead, the army co ordinated its efforts to locate the assailants with Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

Israeli troops, with Palestinian co operation, were searching Ramallah last night. A Subaru car found ablaze in the city was thought to have served as the attacker's vehicle.

Visiting the injured members of the Tzur family in a Jerusalem hospital last night, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, said the handling of the incident, the first such drive by shooting since the summer, would serve as a test case for the Palestinian Authority, and said Israel would not rest until the murderers had been brought to justice.

The attack came against the background of increased tension surrounding Israel's plans to build a new Jewish neighbourhood in the Arab East Jerusalem district of Ras al Amud.

Monday's decision to construct 132 Jewish homes, though yet to be given full government approval, was castigated yesterday by Mr Arafat as a "serious breach" of peace accords.

And Mr Arafat's top official in Jerusalem, Mr Faisal Husseini, warned that the building plans could trigger a similarly furious reaction to that prompted by Israel's opening of an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City three months ago. Gun battles then left 60 Palestinians and 15 Israelis dead. "Don't do it," Mr Husseini urged.

The visiting Jordanian minister, Mr Marwan Muashar, stressed his country's opposition to this and other settlement projects, adding that Mr Netanyahu's policy on settlement expansion was directly causing instability in Jordan.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr Amr Moussa, was set to visit Israel to try to mediate a breakthrough in deadlocked peace efforts, but Israel has rejected his offer of intervention.

Speaking in Cairo, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak derided Israel's efforts to marginalise Egypt's involvement in a peace process which, he noted, Egypt had itself initiated.

In a reminder of the potency of extremist opposition to reconciliation efforts, Hamas Islamic activists yesterday held a rally in Gaza, sanctioned by Mr Arafat, chanting anti Israeli slogans and burning an Israeli flag to mark the ninth anniversary of the outbreak of the intifada.

Despite the chorus of protest, members of Mr Netanyahu's coalition insisted that the new Jerusalem neighbourhood would be built, and noted that the land in question was owned by a Miami millionaire and Netanyahu backer, Mr Irving Moskowitz.