Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli officials Friday condemned the killing of two Palestinian men and a baby, an attack apparently carried out by Israeli extremists, and vowed to catch the culprits.
The shooting prompted renewed Palestinian calls for an international observer force to be deployed in the disputed territories. It comes shortly after the U.S. and other G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Genoa called for a "third-party monitoring" body.
Funerals got underway Friday for Mohammed Salameh Tmeizi, 22, Mohammed Hilmy Tmeizi, 20, and three-month-old Diya Tmeizi, who were killed in a drive-by shooting late Thursday.
The divided city of Hebron, south of Jerusalem, was tense as security forces attempted to prevent any further deterioration of the situation. Mourners chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to the U.S."
Israeli officials condemned the murder in the strongest possible terms and said they would exert maximum efforts to apprehend the killers.
"In my eyes as the defense minister there is no difference ... between a murder committed at the hands of [Palestinian terrorist organizations] and this murder," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a radio interview.
"I hope that very quickly we will get our hands both on an organization - if there is one - and on the perpetrators, and bring them to justice," he added.
"Israel will apprehend those who perpetrated the abominable murder ... and will punish them to the fullest extent of the law," said Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office also issued a statement vowing Israel would "do its utmost" to catch the killers.
A group calling itself the "Committee for Road Safety" claimed responsibility for the shooting. The name apparently alludes to the risks posed to Israelis by Palestinian gunman while traveling in the disputed territories, where many have been shot dead.
Deputy Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra said he believed those behind the attack were a very small group, and not comprised of settlers - Israelis who live in communities located in the disputed areas.
Ezra noted that the attack occurred in an area without many Jewish settlements, and that the perpetrators had fled in the direction of Israel-proper.
A body representing Israeli settlements in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip said in a statement it would condemn the attack if it were proven it had been perpetrated by Jews.
"Such an act is forbidden morally and legally, and such acts can only damage the entire settlement effort," it said.
The Palestinian Authority said it held the Israeli government "fully responsible for this crime against our people."
The PA appealed to leaders attending the G-8 summit "to take an immediate, urgent and decisive decision to send international monitors to the Palestinian territories to protect our people from the oppression of the occupation army and the brutal crimes conducted by the settler militias."
Israel rejects international observers
Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer on Friday repeated the government's position rejecting the deployment of international observers in the area.
But he added that Israel would be willing to allow the CIA to play such a role.
The CIA has been involved for several years in security negotiations between Israel and the PA. Director George Tenet brokered a ceasefire agreement between the two parties last month which has yet to take effect.
"The whole matter of observers is unacceptable to us, but if this will be forced upon us, I will live with the presence of monitors of the Americans," Ben-Eliezer said in a radio interview.
His office later issued a statement confirming that if forced, Israel would accept CIA representatives as monitors.
Sharon earlier rejected out of hand a call for "third-party monitors" made by G-8 foreign ministers in Genoa on Thursday.
In a statement on Thursday, the ministers declared that the recommendations proposed by a committee led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, were the only way to restore order in the region. They called on both sides to observe their commitments to halting the violence and urged them refrain from provocation and incitement.
In what seemed to be a shift in a long-held position, the U.S. backed a communique, which, among other things, called for international observers "accepted by both parties."
Earlier this year, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the deployment of an international force in the troubled areas.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Immanuel Nahshon said Friday Israel was pleased the ministers had accepted its stance that the stationing of observers had to be based on mutual consent. "And we don't accept it," he added.
Sharon has spent much of the last month urging leaders of G-8 nations to use their influence to pressure PA Chairman Yasser Arafat into stopping terrorism and violence.
But a diplomatic source in Jerusalem said Israel was not entirely surprised by the declaration.
There was forewarning of such a resolution after the European Union made a similar call several days ago, he said. It was clear that there had been coordination between the EU and U.S. ahead of time, he added.
Israel has had previous experience with international observer forces, both along its northern border and also in the divided city of Hebron.
It fears that an international force will observe Palestinian attacks on Israelis, but prevent any retaliatory action.