Armed Arabs on the structure's roof replied to the IDF call with massive gunfire. In ensuing heavy exchanges of fire which included an aerial attack on the terrorists, five Islamic Jihad cell members were eliminated. These included Elias Ashkar, the most wanted Islamic Jihad terrorist in the region. The IDF spokesman said that an unspecified number of other armed Arabs were likely killed in the battle.
The Russian TV network RTVi reported that a sixth terrorist was killed in the battle. He was a Palestinian Authority (PA) police commander at the PA police station next door to the terrorist hideout. The commander opened fire at the IDF anti-terror unit and was shot and killed. To view a picture of the dead PA police commander [not recommended for sensitive viewers], click here.
A simultaneous operation was carried out in Jenin in which another Islamic Jihad terrorist was eliminated. Both operations concluded Sunday evening.
Elias Ashkar was wanted for a long while, but his increased terrorist activity in recent months promoted him to a primary spot on the wanted list. Ashkar was involved in all the major attacks carried out by the Islamic Jihad gang in the last year including:
- Last month's massacre of 11 Israeli civilians at the old Central Bus station in Tel Aviv. 66 persons were wounded in the April 17th attack.
- The October 2005 suicide bombing in Hadera in which 5 Israelis were murdered and 28 wounded.
- The suicide bombings in Netanya in July and December of 2005, in which 8 civilians were murdered and 149 wounded.
- The February, 2005 suicide bombing at Tel Aviv's Stage Night Club in which 4 Israelis were murdered and 52 wounded.
Ashkar manufactured and prepared the explosive belts and devices used in the above attacks.
Ashkar was directly involved in the planning and preparation of additional mass-murders which were nipped in the bud by IDF forces. The closest call was two months ago on March 21, when a Jenin-based Arab terrorist was captured at the last minute by the IDF on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway carrying a suitcase of explosives prepared by Ashkar's cell.
The interrogation of several recently captured Islamic Jihad terrorists revealed that Ashkar was intensively planning the slaughter of more Israeli citizens on Tel Aviv buses, bus stops, markets, and other crowded areas. He was also planning a car bomb attack against an IDF target in northern Samaria.
Ashkar was responsible for the enlistment of terrorists from Arab villages in the Jenin and Tul Karem regions. He would induct them, supply them with arms, ammunition, and explosive devices, and dispatch them.
The IDF spokesman said that all of Islamic Jihad's terrorist activity is funded via the gang's main office, which operates in safe haven in Syria. The money from Syria is the "gasoline" that propels the Islamic Jihad's terrorist machine, enabling the purchase of weapons and raw materials for manufacturing bombs, the enlistment of rookie terrorists, and the payoffs to the families of the suicide bombers and accomplices in the attacks.
Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) called Israel's operation “a crime,” warning that Israel’s actions will increase regional instability, violence and conflict. Abu Mazen made his statements during an official visit to Russia, where he is meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
In response to the IDF success, senior Islamic Jihad gang leader Sheikh Khaled Al-Betsh told Ynet that Defense Minister Amir Peretz is a “preying hawk,” comparing him to his predecessor, Sha'ul Mofaz. Some PA officials called Peretz “a criminal” and “a terrorist.”