Raed Karmi, the local leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades, which is linked to Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political party, was killed Monday when a bomb went off near his hideout at a Tulkarem cemetery. Palestinian officials say Israel was behind the explosion.
Israel refused to comment on the allegations, but an Israeli Cabinet member called Karmi, who has admitted to at least two shooting attacks against Israelis, “a ticking bomb.
“He who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told Army Radio.
Karmi narrowly escaped death in September when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at his car. At the time, he hailed his brush with death as justification for the jihad against Israel.
Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli government has admitted to targeted attacks on suspected Palestinian militants, calling such acts self-defense.
The U.S has condemned the attacks and the Palestinians call them assassinations.
Karmi was supposed to be one of the militants being held by Palestinian police, in accordance with Arafat’s promise to crack down on anti-Israeli violence. A senior Palestinian official was quoted in press reports as saying Karmi was on his way back to prison after being allowed to visit his wife and daughter.
But Sharon’s office said Karmi was an example of Arafat’s revolving door policy.
“Again we confront a situation in which the Palestinian Authority claims that an activist is arrested when in fact he is free,” a statement said.
Hundreds of Palestinians carried Karmi’s bloody body through the streets, shooting guns, weeping and calling for revenge. In a printed statement, the Al Aqsa Brigades said it was calling off a truce agreed to on December 16.
“The so-called cease-fire is a joke and is canceled, canceled, canceled,” the group wrote in a leaflet. “Revenge is coming.”
Just hours after Karmi’s death, Palestinian gunmen opened fire near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Shavei Shomron. One Israeli was reported killed and another moderately wounded.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel would stop demolishing refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Last week Israel bulldozed buildings the army said were sheltering Palestinian militants. United Nations officials said hundreds of Palestinians were left homeless by the operation.
On Monday, Israel destroyed nine permitless homes in east Jerusalem. Palestinians accuse Israel of rarely granting permits to Arabs and using zoning laws for population control.
As the animosity escalated, leading Israeli and Palestinian moderates announced a joint initiative to revive peace talks. Members of the Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace, including Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi and Israel’s former justice minister, Yossi Beilin, met in Norwegian diplomatic offices, a few yards from the Jerusalem city boundary.
Abed Rabbo said the alliance would search for “practical and concrete steps” to improve relations.
The talks, however, do not have official sanction from the Israeli government and it is unclear whether U.S. mediator Anthony Zinni will return to the region on January 18, as scheduled.