The death of 12 Israelis near the West Bank city of Hebron Friday has set off a debate about the future of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. According to Ha'aretz, gunmen from Islamic Jihad "opened fire and tossed grenades at security forces escorting Jewish settlers who were making their way on foot to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba after Sabbath prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs." Four soldiers, including the Hebron Brigade's commander—the most senior member of the Israeli Defense Forces killed in the Al-Aqsa intifada thus far—five border policemen, and three civilians were killed, and at least 15 others were injured in the ambush.
The 1,300-yard route, known as "Worshipers Way," between the 6,000-population Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclave of 450 at the tomb, passes through Palestinian territory. On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told army officers to "take advantage of the opportunity" to create "territorial contiguity" between the settlements. This was understood to mean the establishment of an Israeli-controlled corridor between four small Jewish enclaves and Kiryat Arba. Britain's Guardian pointed out, "Linking the settlements would require the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes and would further poison relations in a tense city which has a Palestinian population of 130,000."
Ha'aretz denounced any plans to create a contiguous zone: "The very idea of creating a 'security zone' within an Arab city should be rejected outright. Already now, with Jewish islands scattered within the Arab city, the IDF is having a hard time defending the settlers. Things could only get worse with the establishment of a settlers' enclave along the route between Kiryat Arba and the center of the city." An op-ed in Yediot Ahronot also opposed any further extension of the settlements: "A dozen cruel deaths, because of despair, occupation, hatred and the obstinacy of insisting on hanging onto the poisonous sediment called the territories. Soldiers and policemen protect with their own bodies and their own lives a handful of belligerent religious fanatics. An entire country sends its sons, mobilizes its army and harnesses its resources to serve an evil, superfluous and hopeless whim. This war is not being waged to save our homes or our country, but to protect the settlers—and while they are there, blood will flow." (Hebrew translation courtesy of the Lebanon Daily Star's "Israeli Press Review.")
Ad-Dustour of Jordan cheered the Hebron attack, claiming that the settlers' occupation provoked the Palestinians: "Israel is holding the free end of the bloody string, and the region will know no stability unless Israel pulls that string, along with its tanks and soldiers, out of Palestinian lands and sits at the negotiating table, which is the only proven alternative to more casualties." (Arabic translation courtesy of the Star's "Arab Press Review.")