Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Two Israeli soldiers were shot and killed in an early-morning terrorist attack on Tuesday, and the latest murders have some people questioning the new Palestinian Authority government's willingness to fight terrorism, Israeli officials said.
A terrorist with a rifle rolled up in a prayer mat walked up to a checkpoint by a road next to Bethlehem and opened fire at close range, killing two soldiers, said Brig.-Gen. Gadi Eizencott, commander of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) division.
The gunman ran to a waiting car, which took him to neighboring village of El Khader, a Palestinian village under complete Palestinian Authority control. The Israeli army clamped a curfew on El Khader and was conducting searches in the area.
It was the first deadly attack since the October 24 infiltration of terrorists into the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim, in which three soldiers were killed.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack.
Israel recently eased restrictions on Bethlehem, making it easier for tourists, students and workers to move in and out. But according to Eizencott, that was all reversed following the attack. "This terror attack, to my sorrow, obligates us to impose restrictions," Eizencott said.
"If there are terrorists inside the city Bethlehem and we need to put our hands on them; or if the PA would arrest them, with a serious arrest, and not just...release them in two days -- until then, the life of the citizens in the area will be harder," Eizencott said.
David Baker, an official in Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, said the attack was a sign that the PA was still not tackling the issue of terrorism.
"[It's] another clear indication that Palestinian terrorism continue to thrive and that the PA refuses to take the necessary steps [to combat terrorism]," Baker said.
The shooting comes amid talk of a pending meeting between Sharon and his PA counterpart Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia as well as new discussions about a ceasefire between militant groups and the PA.
Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman is sending a personal envoy to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, who will attempt to revive ceasefire talks with the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Suleiman held talks with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah on Monday.
Suleiman was involved in arranging a temporary three-month truce with militants in June, which disintegrated completely after two months, with a massive suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem that left more than 20 dead and subsequent Israeli actions.
At the time, Israel warned that the truce or hudna was allowing militants a breather from harsh Israeli pursuit so they could rearm and regroup.
An Israeli diplomatic source said that Israel's view on a temporary "ceasefire" remains the same.
"We don't think that the hudna or ceasefire is what is needed," said the source who asked not to be named. "Action from the PA is needed."
The source said that Israel welcomes every involvement of Egypt in the fight to stop terrorism.
Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, disagrees. Earlier Steinitz said that Egyptian support of a ceasefire between militant groups and the PA offers Hamas and others political support against the PA and its government.
"What they are saying to the Palestinian Authority, you shouldn't crackdown on Palestinian militants of Hamas, Islamic Jihad as we did in Egypt [on the Muslim Brotherhood] because this would be war among brothers," Steinitz said. "So there is also a clear political support to the Hamas."
Meanwhile, Sharon, who is on a three-day official visit to Italy, said he hopes to meet with Qureia yet this week to hold discussions on implementing the road map.
"I think that in the next few days there will be a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian one to resume the dialogue between them," Sharon said in Rome on Monday.
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said earlier that no meeting had yet been scheduled but that when it did take place both sides would need to come "very well prepared."
Speaking from Brussels, following the shooting, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, said that Tuesday's terror attack cast a doubt on the idea of resumption of the peace process.
"There's no doubt that after what happened this morning, the possibilities of discussions toward preparations for renewal of the [peace] process appear very distant," Shalom said.
PA official Sufian Abu Zaideh said in a radio interview that the PA was "striving for a situation in which there won't be attacks and there won't be occupation."
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