A missile fired by a helicopter destroyed a car in the West Bank’s Balata refugee camp, killing two militants, as Israel began confiscating Palestinian land to build the most controversial part of its separation barrier.
The airstrike late Monday killed Khalil Marshoud, local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a violent offshoot of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. The military said Marshoud was behind a number of attacks against Israelis.
Another Palestinian militant was killed and a third person was seriously wounded in the attack near the city of Nablus, witnesses said.
The airstrike was the second in recent weeks. Israel killed two other Al Aqsa leaders in a missile attack in Nablus on May 2.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, a vehicle blew up near Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip after soldiers fired on it, the army said. There were no reports of Israeli or Palestinian casualties.
The vehicle apparently was rigged with explosives, the army said. Palestinian witnesses said no one was inside when it blew up.
Building continues on separation barrier
Israel began building the separation barrier last year, to keep out Palestinian militants who have killed hundreds of Israelis since the outbreak of fighting in 2000. In some areas, the trenches, walls and fences run near Israel’s old frontier with the West Bank, but elsewhere dip deep into the territory claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
The latest land seizures are part of construction of a barrier segment near the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank — the touchiest part of the project.
Palestinians charge that the barrier project is meant to swallow up large parts of the West Bank, pointing to the Ariel sector as a prime example.
If Israel builds the barrier to include Ariel on the “Israeli” side, it would mean cutting a wedge halfway through the northern part of the territory, because Ariel is in the middle.
With 18,000 residents, Ariel is the second-largest West Bank settlement. Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, has 26,000.
The United States is opposed to adding Ariel to Israel by means of the barrier, and Israel has so far avoided making a clear decision.
Asaf Shariv, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman, said that for now, only an east-west section of the barrier is being built, leaving the option of encircling Ariel separately — a concept the Americans apparently do not oppose.
A U.S. official said there are ongoing consultations about the Ariel issue.
Palestinians complain of hardships
The Ariel barrier project is already causing hardships for Palestinians.
Residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Azawiya were informed that 4,500 acres of land are being expropriated for a two-mile stretch of barrier, said Annan Elashkar, a Palestinian liaison officer with Israel.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said building a barrier around Ariel would “mean the destruction and devastation of the road map,” an internationally backed peace plan for a Palestinian state next year, because of the confiscation of Palestinian land.
For months, Palestinians and their supporters have been demonstrating at many construction sites along the length of the barrier, making similar complaints. Thousands of acres of land have been confiscated for the barrier.
In the Israeli parliament, meanwhile, Sharon’s government survived three motions of no confidence when the opposition Labor Party abstained.
Sharon lost his parliamentary majority while ramming a plan to pull out of Gaza through his Cabinet. Labor has pledged to give him a “safety net” in parliament votes as a gesture of support for the Gaza plan.