by DEBKAfile

10 May 2002


"Friday, May 10, was a dark day for the thousands of Israeli bereaved by Palestinian terror. The details of the deal to release 123 Palestinians granted sanctuary for 38 days in one of the holiest shrines of Christendom, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, slipped out when it was too late. The first group of 13 hard-core terrorist chiefs, each with a long, checkered record as killers as well as masterminds and commanders of terrorist hits against Israeli civilians, was already over the Mediterranean Sea, safe aboard a British Royal Air Force flight heading for Cyprus. Among them: Ibrahim Abayat, head of the Bethlehem al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Hamas terrorist of the same name and additional members of the notorious Abayat clan, as well as Jihad Jarah, who staged five terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, and four members of Tirawi’s General Intelligence. They were promised a well-guarded hotel to wait in comfort and safety for the European Union’s decision next Monday, May 13, as to the countries that will accept them.

They left a parting gift for the clerics who gave them asylum and the US and British intelligence agencies, as well as the Vatican, who together sponsored the deal for their escape from trial. Booby-trapped doors inside the Church of Nativity were rigged to blow up after the church was restored to its Christian custodians – unless of course the American agents who undertook to collect the arms the Palestinians left behind succumbed first. The thirteen men therefore never interrupted their career of terror for a moment.

According to Lt.-Col Eival Giladi, Head of IDF Strategy Division, the Israel-Palestinian deal brokered by the American CIA and British MI6 does not specify under what conditions these bloodstained terrorists will live in their countries of exile - or even its duration. There will be restrictions, though not necessarily jail, he said, adding vaguely, “They will be away a very long time, and can’t come back without our permission.”

The second group of 26 Palestinians – terrorists, but further down the wanted list than the first 13 – will go scot-free.
Col. Salem Dardoneh told reporters at the Erez crossing point from Israel to the Gaza Strip: “They will not be held, not even for one hour, nor will they be judged.” Indeed, on Yasser Arafat’s instructions, the Palestinian Authority organized a triumphant victory welcome for the terrorists at the Gaza City stadium, in brazen defiance of the US declaration of his obligation to fight terror. Some of the honorees turned up with green headbands inscribed with the Al Aqsa Brigades insignia, declaring, “We are all Martyrs!” and flourishing V-signs.

The Al Aqsa Brigades of Arafat’s Fatah group has been declared by the United States a terrorist organization. Therefore, under the presidential dictum: “If you harbor a terrorist, you’re a terrorist,” the American officials and agents, who aided in the release of members and protected them, are in violation of the same US law that gives broad latitude to US authorities detaining suspected terrorists and holding prisoners in Camp X-Ray in Cuba. Any European country granting them asylum – ie harboring terrorists - would equally culpable.

Outside the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces reinforced by a fresh intake of reservists prepared for its next counter-terrorist operation in retaliation for the Rishon Lezion massacre of 15 Israeli civilians by a suicide bomber. Forewarned by a garrulous Israeli defense minister and his deputy, wanted Hamas and Jihad Islami terrorists will certainly have gone to ground.

As Israeli troops prepared to lift their five-week siege of Bethlehem, in Beersheba, two Palestinian terrorists were caught after they hurled a bomb outside a bank, injuring 11 Israelis, the third Palestinian terror strike this week.

A small group of Israelis, speaking for the many bereaved by the actions of the departed terrorists – including many American nationals - attracted little attention from the media cameras trained on the Palestinian departure from the Church and their families. One demonstrator pointed out that there is now nothing to stop the Palestinians banished without facing trial for their crimes continuing their campaign of violence elsewhere, for which the Israeli government will justly be held responsible."