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71-Year-Old Israeli Settler Beaten, Slain

Mideast: Shooting by four Palestinian militiamen is followed by a fatal attack on women in car. Revenge appears to be motive.


BEIT JALA, West Bank — Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a 71-year-old Israeli at a roadblock in this West Bank village Tuesday, drove him to a field in a nearby village, beat him and then shot him to death, the Israeli army said, in what appeared to be a revenge killing.

Hours later, in a second attack, a pair of Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car heading toward the West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, killing a 45-year-old settler and seriously wounding her 70-year-old aunt, the army reported.

The attacks fueled fears that the death of a Palestinian militia leader in disputed circumstances Monday has triggered a fresh spiral of revenge attacks that could destroy U.S. efforts to secure a cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel Television said the army was preparing to respond "forcefully" to Tuesday's killings. Palestinian sources said Palestinian security organizations were on high alert in anticipation of a retaliatory attack.

In what may have been an effort to head off an Israeli response, the Palestinian Authority reportedly arrested Ahmed Saadat, secretary-general of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, late Tuesday night.

'Political Arrest'

Abdul Rahim Mallouh, Saadat's deputy, said the PFLP leader had been called to a meeting with a Palestinian official in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where a team of security officers arrested him.

"This is a very dangerous political arrest," Mallouh said in a telephone interview. "It came in response to pressures from Israel and the United States."

Israel has demanded Saadat's arrest and extradition in connection with the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was gunned down in an East Jerusalem hotel in October. The PFLP claimed responsibility for Zeevi's killing, saying it was an act of revenge for Israel's assassination of Saadat's predecessor, Mustafa Zibri, better known as Abu Ali Mustafa.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, expressed skepticism that Saadat was indeed under arrest.

"Until I see him behind bars, I will not believe this," Gissin said.

In Beit Jala, residents said Tuesday night that they were badly shaken by the killing of Avi Boaz, an engineer and dual Israeli-American citizen. Boaz, a settler living in the West Bank, was well known and well liked in this traditionally Christian village, Palestinians said. He had built many houses in the village and for years lived in Beit Jala's Everest Hotel, and had lunch with friends there shortly before he was killed, Palestinian sources said.

Villagers expressed outrage that someone many considered a dear friend had been killed in their midst.

"This is an unacceptable crime," said a leader of a Palestinian opposition faction in Beit Jala, who spoke on condition he not be named.

Lt. Col. Sharon Levy, Israeli commander of the Israeli-Palestinian District Coordinating Office in Beit Jala, said Boaz was driving with a Beit Jalan friend near the Arab Orthodox Club when they were stopped at a roadblock staffed by the Palestinian naval police.

Car Commandeered

Four Palestinian gunmen from the Tanzim militia, which is linked to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, pulled the Palestinian from Boaz's convertible, Levy said. The gunmen then commandeered the car and drove off with Boaz. Although Boaz's Palestinian companion quickly alerted the Israelis to the abduction, the Palestinian police at the roadblock told their commanders that they knew nothing of the kidnapping, Levy said.

Hours after the Palestinian Authority turned over Boaz's battered body to the Israeli army south of Jerusalem, two gunmen standing on the side of the road several miles north of Jerusalem opened fire on the car driven by settler Yoela Chen. Security officials said the gunmen signaled Chen to pull over near a gas station, spoke to her and then sprayed her car with gunfire, killing her and injuring her aunt.

The killings came on a day when more than 15,000 Palestinians, many of them shouting for revenge, buried Fatah militia leader Raed Karmi, who died when a bomb exploded near his hide-out in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Karmi, who boasted of killing Israelis, had been near the top of Israel's most-wanted list for months.

Israeli newspapers reported Tuesday that the army had assassinated Karmi. But Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he had died in a "work accident," an Israeli euphemism applied to militants who blow themselves up preparing bombs.

Israel has killed dozens of militants since fighting erupted in September 2000, saying the acts prevent terrorist attacks. Although much of the international community condemns the killings as extrajudicial, most Israelis see them as legitimate acts of self-defense.

But Karmi's killing drew criticism here for shattering a relatively quiet period that had reigned since Arafat announced a unilateral cease-fire Dec. 16.

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