Islamic Jihad's Bethlehem heads killed

One of the four terrorists killed sent a bomb that killed daughter of MK Yitzhak Levy in 2000.

ahmed balbul 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
ahmed balbul 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Five terrorists, including the Islamic Jihad leadership in Bethlehem, were killed in two clashes with the IDF in the West Bank on Wednesday. In the morning, IDF soldiers surrounded a house in Seida, near Tulkarm, and in ensuing gun battles killed Saleh Karkur, 27, an Islamic Jihad gunman. The IDF demolished half of the house. Islamic Jihad released a statement in Gaza saying Karkur was one of the group's top West Bank commanders and threatened to avenge his death. In the evening, a team from the Israel Police's elite Yamam counterterror unit raided Bethlehem and killed four Islamic Jihad gunmen. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said the four had constituted the leadership of the terrorist group's armed wing in the city. When the men's bodies were inspected, they were found to be carrying rifles and pistols. Among the dead was Muhammad Shehada, 45, the commander of Islamic Jihad in Bethlehem. He had been on Israel's wanted list for eight years, since the eruption of the second intifada, for involvement in a number of deadly terror attacks. Another of the dead was Ahmad Balbul, 48, reported to have been a member of both Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades and the Bethlehem City Council. The Shin Bet said Shehada had maintained direct contacts with Islamic Jihad headquarters in Syria and regularly received instructions from Damascus regarding attacks. His home was demolished by the IDF following last Thursday's terrorist attack at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem - in which eight students were killed - leading to speculation, dismissed by the Shin Bet on Wednesday, that he was involved in planning the attack. The IDF said Shehada was responsible for a series of car bombings and suicide attacks in Jerusalem early this decade. In November 2000, he sent the car bomb that exploded near Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda market, killing two people, including Ayelet Hashahar Levy, 28, the daughter of then-National Religious Party chairman Yitzhak Levy, and 33-year-old Jerusalem lawyer Hanan Levy (no relation), and wounded 10 people. "They finally did what they should have done a long time ago." Levy said last night. "He killed a lot of people, not just my daughter. It bothered me to know that a murderer was still walking the streets and murdering people. It's not a matter of revenge. It's a matter of restoring Israel's deterrence and sending a message that if people kill Jews, they will pay a price." In March 2001, Shehada dispatched a car bomb to the capital's Talpiyot neighborhood that wounded five people. Later that year he sent two suicide bombers who blew up in separate incidents and wounded close to 50 people. According to the sources, Shehada had escaped several previous attempts by security forces to kill him. Earlier Wednesday, Shehada and Balbul toured Bethlehem in the context of cooperation between Islamic Jihad and Fatah, the sources told The Jerusalem Post. The two men discussed the situation in the city with merchants, journalists and Palestinian Authority officials. Shehada and Balbul also met with several Fatah activists in Bethlehem and discussed preparations for holding the party's sixth conference in the coming months. The conference is scheduled to discuss demands by young guard Fatah members for a greater say in the decision-making process. The last time Fatah held such a conference was in Tunis in 1989. Shehada and Balbul visited the offices of the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, where they met with editor-in-chief Nasser Lahham. Lahham later quoted the two as saying they did not believe in the efforts to achieve a hudna, or truce, with Israel. They also said that Israel was determined to kill both of them. Balbul was one of several Fatah gunmen who were supposed to have surrendered their weapons to the PA in return for clemency from Israel. A PA security official said Balbul and some other Fatah gunmen who had promised to lay down their arms spent only a few days in a Palestinian security installation in the city before escaping, violating their deal with Israel. "He refused to stay in the security installation despite fears for his life," the official said. "He preferred to return to the streets with his gun." The Aksa Martyrs Brigades said in response to the killings that it would no longer abide by an unofficial truce with Israel. In Ramallah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the four men as "martyrs" and "heroes." The spokesman condemned the incident as a "brutal crime against our fighters and people." Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam in Gaza denounced the Bethlehem raid. "This new crime reflects the true face of the occupation," he said. "Killing still continues while they are talking about the possibility of bringing calm, but if they think that calm means Palestinian surrender, they are mistaken." Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.