Two Palestinian children, one of them just three years old, were killed in al-Khalil (Hebron) on December 10 when two missiles fired from Apache helicopters — supplied to Israel by the US after the current intifada began last year — slammed into cars at the city’s busy al-Salaam junction during the afternoon rush-hour. Four other children and two adults related to the boys were injured, as well as other bystanders. Israeli officials later claimed that the missiles were aimed at Mohamed Sider, a local Islamic Jihad leader, who was slightly injured in the attack.
Burhan al-Yamouni, 3 years old, was decapitated when one of the missiles blew up the car in which he was travelling with his father. His father was critically injured; medical staff fear that he could lose both of his legs. The other child killed was Shadi ar-Raffeh, 13 years old, who was travelling in the car behind the Yamounis. His father suffered minor injuries. The two families are related, and the men were going to a local bakery to buy food for their families’ iftaar. The other children injured were all boys aged from 8 to 13.
The attack came on the same day as a major Israeli military incursion into areas of Rafah town, in which a number of Palestinian homes were bulldozed and one was blown up. The incursion increased anger and tension in an area where Palestinian leaders say there had been relative calm over the previous two weeks.
The attack also came just hours after Fateh, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups offered the Israelis a ceasefire deal in order to scale down the confrontation and violence. A circular announcing the offer said that Palestinian groups would suspend operations inside Israel if Israel halted its military campaign in the West Bank. The offer was an attempt to end the period of heightened confrontation that had begun with the killing of five children in an Israeli attack in the southern Ghazzah town of Khan Yunus on November 22.
The early days of December have seen intensive Israeli attacks on PA targets after martyrdom operations in Jerusalem and Haifa on December 1-2 in response to this atrocity, as well as the deaths of over 150 other Palestinians in recent weeks and the assassination of Mahmud Abu-Hanud, a commander of Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have repeatedly said that they will regard Israeli civilians as legitimate targets as long as Israel continues to kill Palestinian civilians. Despite the Palestinians’ recent militancy, Palestinian deaths since the beginning of the intifada still far outnumber Israeli ones.
The Palestinian offer was also a riposte to the Israeli strategy of trying to turn Palestinian groups against each other by demanding that the Palestinian Authority crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and of attacking PA targets on the pretext that it is refusing to do so. Despite his willingness to attack the Islamic movement on Israel’s demand in the past, Arafat knows that this is no longer an option open to him, as the Islamist groups now have greater popular support than he does in Palestine.
Arafat’s awareness of the growing support for Islamic groups was reflected in his written presidential order earlier this month postponing all student elections in West Bank universities indefinitely. These have traditionally been a measure of political opinion among Palestinians.
Meanwhile, former US marine general Anthony Zinni has been continuing his ‘fact-finding mission’ to occupied Palestine. He was appointed last month as part of the US’s effort to appear more even-handed in its approach to the Palestine issue. Zinni served as commander of US forces in the Persian Gulf after the end of the US attack on Iraq in 1991, and is promoted as having good relations with Arab governments and able to stand up to Sharon.
The US efforts are aimed at an implementation of the Mitchell Report recommendations, which proposed an Israeli ceasefire and freeze in Jewish settlement activities in return for an end to the intifada and a return to negotiations. Even after re-interpreting the recommendations to its own preferences — for example by insisting that Palestinians halt the initifada for six weeks before they fulfil their part of the deal — the Israelis have shown no interest in pursuing this proposal.
US commentators who believe that their hopes for a peace settlement are being held up by ‘extremists’ are right – but the extremists in question are those ruling Israel, not the Islamic movement. Soon the West must come to realise what Hamas recognised long ago: that the only language the Israelis understand is that of force.