Just four days after the Palestinian Authority pledged cooperation with Israeli security forces, its intelligence services arrested two men Tuesday who reportedly confessed to the murder of a yeshiva student in the West Bank city of Hebron just a day earlier.
Palestinian officials said they were expecting Israeli authorities to be just as vigilant in arresting the person who stoned to death an elderly Palestinian in an apparent revenge attack shortly after the murder of the student, Danny Vargas, who worked as a security guard in Hebron.
The slaying of the Palestinian, Mohammed a-Zalmut, 72, triggered clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in Nablus during Zalmout’s funeral. The troops used rubber bullets and tear gas against stone throwers. Palestinian authorities said nine people were injured in the melee.
After similar clashes were reported in other West Bank cities, the Israeli army beefed up its presence in the West Bank. Israeli authorities also closed Hebron and placed a curfew on Palestinians in the West Bank areas it still controls.
The slaying of Vargas, 29, was the second murder and seventh attack on Jews in the Hebron area in two months. Israeli authorities said that in each case, the Palestinian assailants fled to Palestinian-controlled areas.
The two men arrested for Vargas’ murder had also fled to Palestinian-controlled Hebron. One reportedly confessed to the slaying earlier this month of a yeshiva student while he was bathing in a mikveh in the West Bank.
Israeli authorities said Vargas was driven near the power station he guarded when two Palestinians signaled to him from their car to stop. When he complied, the two jumped out and fired at him point blank, pumping four bullets into his neck and head. They then reached in, pulled out his lifeless body and escaped with his car.
A few minutes later, several passing Palestinians discovered Vargas lying on the dirt road and tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him.
News of Vargas’ murder reached Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while he was meeting with leaders of the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the territories. Netanyahu had invited the leaders to his Jerusalem office in an effort to convince them that last week’s Wye River agreement with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat was not as bad as they feared.
When the Yesha heads learned of Vargas’ murder, one later related to Haaretz that they told Netanyahu: “You once said you would not agree to Arafat becoming our subcontractor in the war against terror. You knew then and you know today that he is a covert partner with Hamas, and yet you still signed the agreement with him.”