Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak cut short a trip to the United States and headed back to Israel Tuesday in the wake of Israel's worst single day of casualties during the last six weeks of violence.
Israel sealed off Palestinian Authority-controlled territories on Tuesday in response to three shooting attacks that left four Israelis dead and eight others wounded. The attacks indicated that the Palestinians were taking their battle to the highways.
The roads concerned are often isolated routes, linking Israel-proper with Jewish settlements, and at times surrounded by territory under PA control.
Israel refrained from taking any further retaliatory actions, as has become its policy of late. But Barak, who is due back in the evening, will reportedly hold an emergency meeting of his security cabinet. Such meetings have usually been followed by a more robust Israeli military response.
A 42-year-old mother of five died after she was shot in the head as the car she was traveling in came under fire from a passing vehicle. Further down the road the occupants of the same vehicle sprayed an army transport bus with machine gun fire, killing two soldiers and wounding eight others.
A 26-year-old truck driver was killed later when his truck came under fire near a crossing point in the Gaza Strip.
Four Palestinians also died on Monday. Two Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian policeman was killed in the West Bank.
A fourth Palestinian, the 17-year-old nephew of Mohammed Dahlan, head of Palestinian Preventive Security Services in Gaza, died in an Israeli hospital of wounds he sustained on Saturday.
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is acting prime minister while Barak is away, said the military faction of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, known as the Tanzim, was changing tack.
"Arafat and the Tanzim have started to implement a new strategy called 'death on the roads,'" Ben-Eliezer said in a radio interview on Tuesday. "I ordered a total closure of the whole area [PA-controlled areas in the West Bank] except for humanitarian things ... until further notice."
The apparent new tactic comes shortly after West Bank Fatah head Marwan Barghouti vowed to expand the conflict to areas under partial or full Israeli control.
PA officials have vowed to continue the violence until they get a state on all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip - land that Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Such a move would displace more than 210,000 Israelis who live in communities they built in those areas, which they call by their Biblical names of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and consider to be a God-given, eternal inheritance to the Jewish people.
Israel television's primary analyst told viewers Monday evening that moving the conflict to the roads had two goals: forcing Israelis to travel in convoys and making their lives difficult with relatively little investment; and creating a de facto "dual-government" on the roads.
Speaking to a Jewish audience in Chicago on Monday, Barak called on the PA once again to "stop the violence and restore calm."
"Let me be very clear, we will not reward violence," Barak said. "We will act decisively to defend our civilians and our soldiers, even as we pursue peace."
However, many Israelis have accused Barak of restraining the army's response for political reasons.
Opposition Knesset member Limor Livnat, who has set up a protest tent outside the prime minister's official in Jerusalem, is demanding that Barak return the feeling of security to Israeli citizens by untying the hands of the army.
"No Israelis feel really safe," Livnat said.
She was protesting against the policy of "not initiating" actions to stop terrorism. Although she declined to give any suggestions about how she thought the army could deal with the situation, she said that the army had many "creative" ways of dealing with violence.
Rabbi Meyer Fendel, a Jerusalem resident participating in the Livnat's protest, said he also believed the Israeli army was under-reacting to the violence.
"The question is how do you respond to people who throw rocks, throw Molotov cocktails and have begun to shoot, what do you do? Do you say, 'Well they only have rocks so we'll throw rocks back at them?' Impossible!" Fendel said. "If this were happening in any country in the world, they would never permit anything like this."