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Itamar Massacre

Slaughter Of Fogel Family In Their Sleep Jeopardizes Prospects For Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Israeli Security Forces Launch Massive Manhunt For Palestinian Killers On West Bank While Also Trying To Restrain Furious Israeli Residents Bent On Retaliation

IsraCast Assessment: Israeli Peace Camp Will Contend There is No Alternative To Peace Process Despite Atrocity - Right Wing Will Warn The Massacre Reveals True Face Of Palestinians & Peace Is An Illusion

Fogel family

On the quiet Sabbath eve of March 11th, two Palestinian terrorists penetrated the Israeli settlement of Itamar on the West Bank and literally slaughtered five members of the Fogel family, including two young boys and a four month old baby girl. Israeli security forces have mounted a manhunt for the killers while also deploying to prevent incensed settlers from retaliating against Palestinians. The atrocity now jeopardizes the relative quiet on the West Bank and prospects for any kind of progress in the peace process. Analyst David assesses some of the ramifications.

The aftershocks of the Itamar massacre will be rocking Israeli- Palestinian relations for some time to come. Israeli security forces have launched one of their biggest manhunts for the killers of five members of the Fogel family - past experience indicates they will likely catch up with them, dead or alive. Meanwhile, the IDF and Israel Police will also have their hands full trying to restrain furious settlers, who vow to retaliate for one of the most brutal terror atrocities in recent years. Actually even Hamas, although praising the attack and passing out candy in Gaza to celebrate it, has declared it was not responsible. Actually, Israeli intelligence sources believe the mode of the attack indicates it was a 'local initiative' by locals in the Itamar vicinity and not a planned operation attack by a terror group. Therefore, there was little way of knowing it was coming. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to say that 'terrorism does not serve Palestinian interests', Netanyahu reportedly retorted: 'You should condemn it, not because it doesn't serve your interests but because it was inhuman and immoral!' Netanyahu has demanded that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority stop the incitement against Israel in schools, mosques and the media.

Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a public condemnation. Netanyahu has also demanded that those countries that are quick to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council for 'planning to build a home, or placing a tile', should also condemn the attack unequivocally. Appearing on TV, after the end of the Sabbath, Netanyahu was stone-faced and obviously deeply moved after seeing photos of how the five members of the Fogel family were murdered in their sleep. The Prime Minister also vowed: 'Terrorism will not determine Israel's settlement map!' Later the ministerial committee on settlement decided that in response to the killings, Israel would build four hundred housing units in West Bank settlement blocs, that Israel assumes will be part of any final agreement with the Palestinians.

Just how did two terrorists manage to penetrate the electronic fence around Itamar that sends an immediate warning to residents on guard duty in the settlement? In a word complacency. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnaie has disclosed the electronics did their job, the guards did not! When the alarm went off at about nine o'clock on a quiet Sabbath eve, some of the guards went to the fence to check out the warning, but they did not detect any signs of a penetration and so ruled out any threat. (The fence is so sensitive that an alert can be touched off by an animal brushing up against it.) Nor did they notify a unit of IDF soldiers who were also on duty at Itamar or the regional IDF command. If they had, it is possible that the entire settlement would have been put on emergency alert on suspicion of a terror penetration. But the fact that nothing was done enabled the terrorists to move about freely inside the settlement for a couple of hours and carefully choose their target.

First, they entered one home that was empty, they approached a second where the occupants were still up and apparently decided against breaking in because it would have caused a commotion. They then selected the darkened home of the Fogel family who had gone to sleep and broke in through a window. (Apparently, there were no protective iron rods on the windows, the customary device installed by most Israeli families who live on the ground floor elsewhere in Israel). The terrorists then proceeded to stab to death the five family members in their sleep, overlooking two other children who were asleep in their room. There is evidence that the mother may have awakened and tried to resist. All five were stabbed and their throats slit. The terrorists then made their way back through the fence which again sent an alarm signal that was not acted upon. It was only after the family's unsuspecting twelve year old daughter returned home after eleven o'clock and could not get in that she went to a neighbor who open the door and they walked into the blood splattered home.

The Settlers Council of Judea & Samaria, with the family's permission have released ghastly photos of the massacre to both the Israeli and international media to expose the nature of the terrorists. The Israeli media have all decided not to publish the pictures because they are so shocking while the settlers have put them on Utube. A shocked police photographer, who has photographed many murder scenes and terror attacks, told a TV reporter: 'I have never seen anything like it!'

The Palestinian Authority is said to be cooperating with Israel in the manhunt for the killers and dozens of suspects have been detained in the surrounding area of Itamar, which is located not far from the town of Nablus. But in such serious cases, Israeli security forces will be going wherever the trail leads, without asking for permission from the PA to enter Area A which is under Palestinian control. And as both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have vowed, there will be not let up 'until the attackers have been caught and punished'. At the same time, both leaders also appealed to the settlers for restraint and not to take the law into their own hands. After the end of the Sabbath, there were several rock throwing incident by settlers at Palestinians on the West Bank. However, with tempers now running so high calls for restraint will fall on deaf ears among some of the West Bank residents. It is difficult to foresee how severe their 'price-tag' retaliation be after the funerals. IDF and Israel Police reinforcements have been rushed to trouble spots on the West Bank to prevent clashes between Israeli and Palestinian residents. Right-wingers can be expected to also level blame at the Left, particularly Barak who they view as being soft on the Palestinians by lifting road-blocks and pressing Netanyahu to make more concessions. In fact, under mounting international pressure Israel's PM is now in the process of drafting a key note address expected to be delivered in the U.S. within two months.

Netanyahu was said to be preparing a more moderate Palestinian policy, a second 'Bar Ilan' type speech that recognized a two-state solution. On a visit to the Jordan Valley Basin last week, Netanyahu declared the area had to remain under Israeli control for security purposes. The atrocity can only serve to harden the Likud PM's stand and possibly deter him from some concessions he might have been weighing. On the other side, the atrocity has put Abbas on the spot. Although in the West Bank the Palestinian Authority has cracked down hard on Hamas with 2009 ending as one of the quietest ever with only nine Israelis being killed, there is no question that incitement against Jews is rampant in Palestinian text books, mosques and the media. Cabinet Minister Uzi Landau of Lieberman's party has said: 'While Palestinian leaders preach peace abroad, at home they incite against Israel'. Last August, when Netanyahu and Abbas were in Washington for peace talks with President Barack Obama, Palestinian terrorists carried out two deadly attacks near Hebron. Embarrassed politically, Abbas ordered a roundup of Hamas suspects and collaborated with Israel in catching the killers. This will also be required this time but will it be enough? The peace camp in Israel will argue that despite the Itamar atrocity there is no alternative to the peace process with the Palestinians - the Right wing will contend that the slaughter of the Fogel family has exposed the true face of the Palestinians and peace with them is an illusion.

David Essing

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