A day after an Israeli soldier opened fire on a crowded Arab produce market in Hebron, Israeli police announced they have arrested another member of his army unit as an accomplice.
The New Year’s Day shooting, which wounded at least five Palestinians, lent greater urgency to the marathon bargaining over a long-overdue Israeli troop withdrawal from much of the West Bank city. But negotiators again failed to clinch the deal despite Israeli expectations Thursday morning that a final, definitive summit meeting between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was only hours away.
U.S. envoy Dennis Ross continued to prod the two sides Thursday to reach a final agreement, which would clear the way for an Israeli army withdrawal from 80 percent of Hebron.
It was this planned redeployment that prompted Noam Friedman to open fire Wednesday with his M-16 automatic rifle, raking the ramshackle market until he was overwhelmed by other soldiers. Friedman, 22, an off-duty private and Orthodox Jew, said he had carried out the attack to sabotage plans for a partial withdrawal from the city, considered holy by many Jews.
Israeli police said Thursday they have arrested another soldier, Yuval Jibli, 21, on charges of aiding Friedman and failing to prevent the attack. Police provided few details about Jibli, but their disclosure made it seem less likely that the shooting was the product of an isolated “lunatic,” as some Israelis initially had claimed.
Both soldiers appeared in court Thursday. A judge ordered Friedman held for 10 days on suspicion of murder and sedition. Jibli was ordered held for four days while police investigate allegations of conspiracy and “non-prevention of a crime.”
Friedman told the judge he regretted that he didn’t kill any Arabs during the attack, according to Israeli radio. He also objected to being under the jurisdiction of a secular court and a female judge.
“I acted alone. It was my decision,” he said. Asked about Jibli, Friedman said: “I have no idea why he was arrested.”
Jibli, who like Friedman wore the black skullcap of Orthodox Jews, denied any wrongdoing.
“I am innocent. I made no conspiracy. It’s all lies and deceit,” he told reporters, burying his face in his sweater as he left the court.
The army has ordered an investigation into why Friedman was enlisted and given a rifle even though a municipal psychiatrist in his West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim had found him unfit to serve, Israel radio reported. Friedman has a history of psychological problems.
In Hebron, both Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers said they remained apprehensive, fearing another outbreak of violence in the coming days. As the vegetable market reopened for business under the watch of Israeli army reinforcements, the Arab groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the shooting.
“The Islamic Jihad affirm to its masses and nation that the crime of the enemy against our innocent people will not pass without a punishment,” the group said.
Almost from the moment Friedman opened fire New Year’s Day, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have worked together to appeal for calm. Netanyahu phoned Arafat within 30 minutes of the shooting to deplore the attack, and Arafat ordered his followers to refrain from retaliating.
Even so, the specter of more violence - by Palestinians or Israelis, or both - has prompted American diplomats to push for a speedy conclusion to negotiations.