HUNDREDS of Jewish settlers blocked West Bank roads with rocks and burning tires yesterday morning, stopping Palestinians from going to work, as a protest against the killing of a settler woman on Feb. 18.
Tzipora Sasson died when Palestinian gunmen ambushed her on her way home to the settlement of Ariel. Her death, claimed by the radical Islamic movement Hamas, was especially shocking to Israelis because she was five months pregnant.
``If Israelis cannot move about safely, we will not let Arabs use the roads,'' said Shai Bazak, a settler spokesman. Soldiers turned Palestinian cars back before they encountered the roadblocks, to prevent any incidents, and the protests ended at 7 a.m.
Sasson was the third Israeli civilian to be killed in the past 10 days - the 20th since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed their framework peace treaty in Washington last September - and her death has sparked calls for tighter restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel from the occupied territories. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres ruled out such a move, however, suggesting that Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be reinforced instead.
Most of the recent killings have occurred in the Israeli-occupied territories, not in Israel proper, and therefore would not have been prevented by restrictions on Palestinian entry permits.
Although some militants belonging to Fatah, the faction headed by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, have refused to follow his orders to lay down their arms, most of the violence has been claimed by Hamas, which considers the peace talks a sellout.
Israeli officials believe a small number of Hamas groups are responsible for most of the recent killings. Ballistics experts reportedly have concluded that the gun used to kill Sasson was also used to kill an Israeli secret police agent last week and four other Israelis in December.