Israeli security forces have arrested 10 West Bank Palestinians in connection with the May 2 machine gun and hand grenade ambush attack in Hebron in which six Israli settlers were killed and 16 injured, the military command announced today.
Four of the suspects were accused of participating in the attack, which caught the settlers in a deadly crossfire as they were walking from sabbath services in the Arab city. The remaining suspects were charged with collaborating with the gunmen and giving them shelter after the attack, the worst in the 13 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
One of the four alleged gunmen was also accused of the shotgun slaying of an Israeli tourist couple in a forest southwest of Jerusalem in March 1979.
The Army command said it had demolished the homes of the four accused guerrillas, as well as the homes of three more Arabs linked to another terrorist cell not connected with the Hebron attack. The military government, as a deterrent, regularly destroys houses occupied by families of suspected terrorists.
It was not clear tonight whether the government would seek, for the first time, imposition of the death penalty set by the cabinet last year for cases of "inhuman cruelty." Following a terrorist attack in the coastal town of Nahariya, the Cabinet approved death by firing squad for terrorists convicted of "heinous" attacks.
Military authorities said the gunmen told them they launched the Hebron attack, which led to the deportation of two prominent West Bank Arab mayors and touched off a new wave of West Bank violence, after receiving "direct instructions" from the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Beirut.
The case was broken, the Army command said, when two of the suspects were caught by a routine patrol trying to escape across the Jordan River into Jordan on Friday night. Army officials said that after interrogation, the two led investigators to the other suspects over the next three days.
The gunmen, Army officials said, had hidden in a cave near the village of Tisir and were supplied with food by some of the alleged accomplices.
Authorities said security forces uncovered an "arsenal" of weapons, including two Kalashnikov assault rifles, a submachine, a shotgun, hand grenades and other explosives. They said the weapons were of the type used in the attacks and that ballistics tests were being conducted.
All the suspects were members of Fatah, headed by Yasser Arafat and the major component of the Plo, officials said. They said some of the suspects said they received instructions directly from Khalil Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, who is Arafat's top-ranking aide.
The Army command did not say how the instructions were sent from Beirut, but Army sources said it is normal for PLO orders to be dispatched either in person or by code words broadcast over commercial radio from the so-called rejectionist Arab states.
The commander of the ambush squad was identified as Yasser Hussein Mohammed Zedat, 30, of the Hebron area, who officials said fled into Jordan in April 1977, after a Katyusha rocket was fired at the Kiryat Arba Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. Zedat, authorites said, was trained in terrorist tactics in Lebanon.
The second-in-command, officials said, was Adnan Jabir, 30, who admitted being a member of Fatah since 1969 and who spent a few months in the Soviet Union studying and undergoing training in guerrilla warfare.
The other two gunmen were identified as Tisir Abu Sneina, 28, a math teacher, who graduated from the University of Amman, and Mohammed Shubaki, 32, a farmer, who was also accused in the 1979 shotgun slaying of the Israeli couple.
Omar Haroub, 30, was accused of supplying weapons and transportation the night of the ambush. A chemist, Haroub graduated from the University of Beirut and had been working for an East Jerusalem blood bank.
The May 2 ambush in Hebron occured at nightfall as a group of Kiryat Arba settlers walked in procession from prayers at the ancient Tomb of the Patriarchs to the former Hadassah Clinic, which houses a group of ultranationalist squatters who are asserting the Jewish right to live in Hebron. Jews fled the city after an Arab attack in 1929 that left 59 Jews dead.
From a hillock above the narrow street, the ambushers fired with automatic rifles and threw hand grenades before disappearing into a cemetery.
The PLO in Beirut immediately claimed responsibility, and Hebron was placed on an around-the-clock curfew for nearly two weeks.