JERUSALEM — An Israeli soldier was stabbed to death Tuesday and another was critically wounded in a mid-morning attack in the crowded casbah of Hebron, a largely Arab city in the occupied West Bank, an army spokesman said.
Two Arabs passing by--a man and a teen-age girl--were wounded when a third Israeli soldier fired his weapon to disperse a crowd that had gathered, the spokesman said. The Arabs were not critically injured, he said.
The dead soldier was the fourth killed in the last 10 months in a sharp escalation of attacks in and near the West Bank of the Jordan River. Ten Jewish civilians have also been slain.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres called Tuesday's attack "part of the increase in terror against the state of Israel" and blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel "will not hesitate to take any military action" in response to terrorist attacks without regard to the political consequences, Peres told a political gathering in Tel Aviv.
Curfew on Hebron
Immediately after the attack, the army imposed a curfew on central Hebron and began searching for the assailant or assailants. Soldiers threw up roadblocks at the city limits.
The government has instituted a series of harsh measures in response to the surge of attacks, including the revival of deportation and detention without trial for suspected anti-Israeli agitators.
Earlier Tuesday, the army ordered the arrest of 20 more West Bank Arabs as potential security threats. That brought to 55 the number placed under what is called administrative detention in the last month. So far, these measures have had little apparent effect.
The Hebron attacks occurred outside the apartment building where four rightist members of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, held a sit-in last month to protest the government's policy of discouraging additional Jewish settlement in the heart of this city of 70,000 people.
The army evicted the four on the fifth day of their protest, and guards have been posted at the apartment building since then. The two soldiers who were stabbed Tuesday, both army reservists, were on duty there when they were attacked.
The army spokesman identified the dead soldier as Avraham Sorek, 38, the father of three children and a resident of a kibbutz near Haifa.
"The attacks are getting increasingly daring," an army source said, noting that the two soldiers stabbed Tuesday were armed with automatic assault rifles.
Geula Cohen, one of the Knesset members who had occupied the apartment, returned to Hebron immediately after Tuesday's incident and charged that the eviction of the four protesters had contributed to the attack.
"No punishment of expulsion or harsh punishment of any other kind against the terrorists and the inciters will be effective if at the same time the Jews are being thrown out and prohibited from living anywhere they want," Cohen said in a radio interview.
The army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Levy, said after visiting the scene of the attack that the movement of some PLO offices to Amman had contributed to the security threat in the West Bank area.
"The existence of terrorist command posts close by the area here and in close contact with the local population is a bad influence from our point of view," he said. "It supports and makes more efficient and gives better possibilities for those who want to attack us."
In the Israeli-controlled security zone north of the Lebanese border, meanwhile, a Muslim suicide bomber crashed his explosive-packed car into a concrete checkpoint maintained by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army militia near the town of Jezzine, killing at least one person.
Beirut radio said the attacker was a member of the pro-Syrian Baath Party. A statement from the party said 30 South Lebanon Army militiamen and seven Israeli soldiers as well as the driver were killed in the blast--the seventh suicide attack on Israeli forces in southern Lebanon since June.
Israel confirmed the incident but said the driver was the only casualty. The Voice of Lebanon, the country's major Christian radio station, also said that only the suicide driver was killed.