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November 16, 2002

Secret Fatah-Hizballah alliance manifested in Hebron

DEBKA claims attack an upping of ante and is not simply terror attacks but all out warfare

Seventeen Israelis have died in two major Palestinian acts of terror in the last six days, confronting Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s fresh top team with their first stiff challenge. The men who will have to come up with answers are defense minister Shaul Mofaz, foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mofaz’s successor as chief of staff, Lt. General Moshe Yaalon.

Sunday, November 10, Palestinian gunmen shot five Israelis in cold blood, including a mother and two small sons, at Kibbutz Metzer inside Israel. In response, Israeli forces stormed into two northern West Bank Palestinian cities, Tulkarm and Nablus, for what were described officially as “toothcomb” operations to uproot terrorists in their lairs. The inference was of a resolute decision to come to grips at long last with the hard core of the Palestinian terrorist machine, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, run by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.

The IDF momentum was brutally interrupted on Friday night, November 15, by a meticulously planned, surprise Palestinian assault on Jewish worshippers making their way home to the Hebron suburb of Kiryat Arba from prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs. The Biblical tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca and Leah, this shrine is shared by Jews and Muslims under an accord reached after the 1967 war.

Striking from several directions at the route known as Worshippers’ Lane, the assailants were able to kill 12 Israelis, among them the Judea Brigades commander, Col. Dror Weinberg, 38, the highest ranking Israeli military casualty in the two-year conflict with the Palestinians. He is survived by his wife and five children. Killed in addition were 3 soldiers, 5 border police commandos and three civilians, members of the Kiryat Arba volunteer preparedness team, all of whom rushed to the aid of the trapped worshippers.

The Israeli counter-attack against the Palestinian assailants killed three members of the team of 8 to 10 estimated to have carried out the massacre. The rest got away, melting into the 130,000-strong Palestinian population of this southern West Bank city or escaping to surrounding villages.

DEBKAfile’s military experts note that, this time, the attack was no “ordinary” terrorist assault or suicide strike of the type all too familiar to every Israeli, but a close-quarters combat engagement in dense urban terrain. The Palestinians demonstrated a

While the Israeli force acted with exceptional bravery, it was admittedly taken by surprise by the high level of training, preparedness, resourcefulness and speed, and firepower encountered in this instance, never before displayed by a Palestinian killer team.

The setback to Israel is all the more galling considering that the Hizballah trainer who prepared the operation and gave the Palestinian team its new capabilities has been in Israeli hands for five months. He is Fawzi Ayoub, a Lebanese Hizballah officer, who has given nothing away so far to his Israeli interrogators.