Israel On High Alert Against Terror Attacks
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli security forces were on high alert Friday against the possibility of terror attacks as well as general unrest throughout Israel -- particularly in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- as Palestinians prepared to mark another declared "day of rage."
Security officials warned against a wave of terror, encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, after the PA virtually emptied its prisons of convicted Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, among them master bomb-makers, terror-cell operators and trained suicide bombers.
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's paramilitary Fatah organization has called on Palestinians to join newly formed militias throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, amid rumors that Arafat intends to declare an independent Palestinian state soon.
In Jerusalem, young Palestinians were banned from the Temple Mount for the first time since two weeks of violent Israeli-Palestinian confrontations left nearly 100 people dead.
A police spokesman said on Friday that police had received intelligence information indicating that young Palestinians intended to create disturbances at the holy site during prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day. Israel radio reported that Palestinians were intending to kill policemen there.
Israel withdrew its police forces from the Mount last Friday, leaving Palestinian security services in charge of it. Protestors tossed rocks from the mosque compound onto Jewish worshippers praying at the Wailing Wall below. However, the real trouble started as Palestinian worshippers left the Mount and clashed with Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The mosque compound has now been completely closed, a move that prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Israel proper, except for medical or humanitarian emergencies.
Overnight, Israel fired missiles at the police academy in PA-controlled Jericho after protestors burned an ancient synagogue there.
A special agreement between Israel and the PA was supposed to protect the synagogue in Jericho as well as the tomb of Joseph in Nablus - the latter destroyed Saturday, after Israeli troops withdrew, leaving the tomb in the hands of PA police. Both the synagogue in Jericho and the tomb of Joseph of Nablus were in areas under full Palestinian control but recognized as Jewish holy sites and access to them was guaranteed.
The missile attack followed a similar attack on military and military-related installations in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip on Thursday in response to the murder and mutilation by a Palestinian "lynch" mob of two Israeli reservists who drove into Ramallah after taking a wrong turn.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak indicated at a press conference on Thursday evening that he would continue to take strong action against Palestinian violence, despite Israel's quest for peace.
"I regretfully concluded that the PA and Chairman Arafat misread our restraint and did not match our desire for peace and security," Barak told reporters.
"Israel will remain loyal to its national security interests. The Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli police will exert every effort to ensure the security and safety of all Israeli citizens."
Despite the military action, Barak said that Israel's "hand remains extended to meet the hand of a real [peace] partner. We have not lost hope for sustainable peace, security, and stability, which will be reached through a great political process."
On Thursday, the PA issued a statement saying that they regarded Israel's actions as a "declaration of war."
However, Barak said he was "not sure" if Israel was at war but that it was clear the two sides were locked in a "violent confrontation with live fire and a use of weapons," which he blamed on the PA "in order to draw international attention and maybe some support for their cause."
Barak moved on Thursday, to invite opposition Likud party leader Ariel Sharon to join a national emergency government and most parliamentarians agreed that this was a time for unity and not political sectarianism.
In Jerusalem, Israelis remained but many are expecting the worst. Several supermarkets in the city reported that there was no "panic buying" taking place, although some smaller stores noticed an increase in sales. However, it was hard to determine if the increase was due to the emergency atmosphere or the Succot holiday, which begins on Friday evening.
One Jerusalemite told her neighbor that since the Palestinians desecrated a Jewish tomb in Nablus on Saturday and desecrated the bodies of two Jews on Thursday, war is surely coming.
"If the Prime Minister was stronger nothing would have happened," said Gabi, a convenience store owner. "It's forbidden to give in and then threaten. "With [the Arabs] you can't give anything in advance."
"It's a hard situation," said 26-year-old Moshe, who owns a beauty salon. "There will be a war. I don't want a war [but] I expected this from the time of [the late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin," he said referring to the slain leader under whom the current peace process was started.
"It's a catastrophe," said Yehuda, father of three who works in the Knesset archives. He said he hoped there would be a war in order to put an end to all the violence.
"We are in a war now," said Yehuda, whose 14-year-old daughter Etti admitted that she, like other children, was afraid. "We aren't doing anything," he said