David Miller
The Media Line
March 13, 2011 - 1:00am

Far from gloating over a terrorist attack Friday night that left five Israeli family members dead in Itamar, a Jewish town located beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, Palestinians across the political spectrum reacted with embarrassment. Many preferred to put the blame for the attack on hidden Israeli hands than put the onus on any Palestinian group.

At least two people armed with knives entered the home of the Fogel family in Itamar, a community of 800 Jewish residents southeast of Nablus, after the family had gone to sleep. They stabbed to death both parents and their three children, aged 11 and four years and three months, before escaping. The family's 12-year-old daughter returned home towards midnight to discover the carnage. Two brothers at home during the killing were spared. A neighbor alerted security forces stationed in the area, who immediately began searching for the assailants in nearby Palestinian villages.

Attacks against Israeli civilians in areas both beyond the so-called Green Line were commonplace during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which began in September 2000. Armed Palestinian factions would hurry to claim responsibility for what they would often dub a "heroic act."

Hamed Betawi, a Hamas member of parliament from Nablus, said the fact that no Palestinian organization officially took responsibility for the attack indicated that it was criminal, rather than ideological.

"I do not accept the killing of a child. It is the army that should be fought against," Betawi told The Media Line. "This is another link in the chain of mutual violence. Not a day goes by without the Israeli army arresting Palestinians. If this action was perpetrated by Palestinians, it was a reaction to settler violence."

A previously unknown group, the Imad Mughniyah Cell of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack Saturday, but an unnamed Israeli officer told Haaretz daily that this was "nonsense."

Hamas, the Islamic group controlling the Gaza Strip and ideologically committed to destroying Israel, pulled back from its initially enthusiastic support of the Itamar killings.

However, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza was circumspect about the Itamar attack, condoning the attack without claiming responsibility for it.

"We in Hamas completely support the resistance against settlers who murder and use crime and terror against the Palestinian people under the auspices of the Israeli occupation soldiers. Hamas official Sami Abu-Zuhri said on Saturday morning. He complained that the Palestinian Authority (PA), its rival that controls the West Bank, had no right to arrest three Hamas activists as it had done.

But, by Saturday night, Hamas’ tone had altered, as its spokesman explicitly distanced the organization and its leadership in Gaza from the attack.

"We are closely following the Israeli escalation against the Palestinian people and the attempts to implicate the Gaza Strip in the killing that took place in the settlement of Itamar, attempting to justify aggressive acts against the Strip," Hamas government spokesman Taher A-Nunu said. "At the same time, Hamas has denied its connection to the Itamar operation and does not rule out the possibility of a criminal act."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday condemned the attack in Itamar. He told the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah that "violence only breeds violence" and that a comprehensive solution for the conflict must be found.

That didn’t satisfy Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called the PA’s statements insufficient and demanded it crack down on what he called the incitement that had inspired the Itamar killers. In response, he convened a special session of a ministerial committee on settlement to approve the construction of hundreds of new homes in Israeli communities beyond the Green Line.

"The Palestinian people don't like actions of this kind," Samih Hamoudah, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, told The Media Line. "People are aware of the fact that actions like this harm the Palestinians and therefore many believe that Jews did this in order to tarnish the Palestinian cause."

But on Sunday, Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah condemned the attack not only on practical grounds, but on moral ones as well.

"The Palestinian judgment of such an action is one of unequivocal condemnation and with the harshest words," columnist Adli Sadek wrote. "Not because this is a crime that harms us politically and publicly … but because such a heinous murder is unacceptable to human nature."

Itamar was the target of similar attacks in the past. In June 2002, a terrorist armed with hand grenades and a rifle stormed into a house in Itamar and killed a mother, Rahel Shevo, and her three children, aged 15, 12 and five, as well as the head of Itamar's security team, before being killed by Israeli Border Patrol forces following a gun battle that lasted over an hour.

In the Arab world, the Itamar killings were largely ignored as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has receded in the face in turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East. The accounts in regional media were factual and focused mainly on the Israeli reaction to the attack, which included imposing a curfew on the West Bank.


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