Palestinian Authority refrains from condemning soldier killings

EU, US and UN denounce the attacks, Hamas hails them; PA’s foreign minister says they are no reason for Israel to divert from peace process

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinain Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki, March 22, 2011. (screen capture: Youtube/PeresCenter)
Palestinain Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki, March 22, 2011. (screen capture: Youtube/PeresCenter)

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister said Monday that the slaying of two Israeli soldiers by Palestinians in separate incidents in three days should not influence peace negotiations. The statement marked the only official comment on the issue from Palestinian officials, who refrained from condemning the killings.

“This is no reason to shake off the requirements of the peace [process] in any way,” Riyad al-Malki told the Ma’an news agency on Monday.

Sgt. Gal Gabriel Kobi, 20, from Tirat HaCarmel was shot in the neck at an IDF checkpoint near Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs on Sunday night. On Friday, Sgt. Tomer Hazan, 20, was lured to a village near Qalqilya in the West Bank by 42-year-old Nidal Amar, who kidnapped and killed him in the hope of trading the corpse for his brother’s release from Israeli prison.

The US indicated on Sunday that both Israelis and Palestinians should denounce the incidents. “We call on all parties to join in condemning these attacks,” the State Department said in a statement.

The European Union, too, condemned the attacks, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling for “maximum restraint” from both sides.

In a statement released Sunday evening, Ashton denounced the killing of Gal Kobi “in the strongest terms,” and said the killing “comes in the wake of several worrying incidents in the West Bank.”

She added that “the EU regrets the loss of life, urges for maximum restraint and reiterates its call to all parties to refrain from actions that could undermine the negotiation process and the prospects of peace,” she said.

On Sunday, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemned the killing of Hazan.

Serry said the “shocking murder” was the latest in a series of violent incidents in the West Bank.

He called for calm on both sides, which he said was “all the more important at this critical moment in the political process.”

Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home party) said Sunday evening that Israel should think twice about releasing any more Palestinian prisoners in goodwill gestures aimed at jumpstarting peace talks.

“While the release of terrorists was a precondition for negotiations, unfortunately there is no doubt that developments since the beginning of the talks demand that the government rethink its position,” Bennett wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to resume peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in late July. Twenty-six convicts were released in August at the start of talks, the first of four scheduled phases.

In the wake of Sunday’s killing, Netanyahu ordered the immediate reopening of Beit Hamachpela, a building near Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs that is claimed by Jewish settlers. The state has evicted right-wing activists from the disputed structure several times over the past year.

“Those who try to uproot us from Hebron, the city of our forefathers, will only achieve the opposite,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We will continue to fight terrorism with one hand, and strengthen settlements with the other.”

Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council member Mushir Al-Masri praised the attacks in a message posted to his Facebook page. Masri wrote that the West Bank is now renewing its resistance to Israeli occupation and that the peace negotiations have not diverted it from its course, according to Israel Radio’s translation.

The IDF has said it does not believe the attacks show a change in the generally peaceful situation in the West Bank, which has been characterized by security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in recent years.

“Our assessment remains: these are local events. We don’t see a change in direction, but we will remain at high alert and won’t relax our efforts to protect the Israeli people,” IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio on Monday morning.

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