United States Advises U.S. Nationals to Leave Gaza
U.S. Resolved to Fully Investigate Gaza Attack
U.S. Embassy in Israel advises U.S. nationals to leave Gaza
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer expressed shock at the October 15 roadside attack that resulted in the death of three U.S. security personnel and injured one. "The United States government will investigate fully and work with the relevant authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the senseless and brutal attack," Kurtzer said during a press conference in Tel Aviv.
The ambassador indicated that an embassy official has spoken to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei requesting "first, that the Palestinian Authority assist in apprehending those responsible, and second, that the Palestinian Authority assist us in the investigation of this horrible terrorist act."
According to the ambassador, the security personnel were accompanying American diplomats visiting Gaza to interview Palestinian academics who have applied for Fulbright scholarships.
In response to the incident, the embassy has advised American nationals not to remain in Gaza. When asked whether this might harm humanitarian programs, Kurtzer responded, "Our hope, given the fact that we ourselves as a Government have invested so much attention and resources in these programs, is that we can continue to provide for Palestinian needs."
Kurtzer confirmed that "The United States will also continue assisting the parties as they seek ways to stop the terror and to achieve peace. This will ultimately be the most enduring response to murderers and terrorists."
Following is the text of the press conference:
Press Conference Following Roadside
Explosion in Gaza
Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
October 15, 2003
Good afternoon. This morning at about 10:15, a United States embassy vehicle carrying four U.S. security personnel was attacked by an explosive charge in Gaza a few miles from the Erez checkpoint. Two U.S. personnel were killed immediately; the two others were taken by Palestinian ambulances to hospitals in Gaza City. One individual died en route to the hospital and the fourth individual was treated at Shifa hospital and subsequently transferred to Soroka hospital in Beersheba where he is in stable condition. The security personnel who were attacked were part of a convoy of armored vehicles including American diplomats with official business to conduct in Gaza for the American Embassy. Among their planned activities were interviews of Palestinian academics who have applied for Fulbright scholarships to study or teach in the United States.
Because we have not yet completed notification of families and have not yet secured privacy waivers, I cannot yet identify those who were killed, to whose families we send our deepest condolences, or the American who remains hospitalized, for whose complete recovery we pray.
The four security personnel were contract employees of the United States Embassy to provide protective security for American officials operating in Gaza and the West Bank. They have always conducted themselves with great valor and professional dedication.
We have received many calls of condolence and offers of assistance including from Prime Minister Sharon, Foreign Minister Shalom, and Palestinian Prime Minister Qurei. I want to thank them and everyone else who called for their expressions of condolence and for the assistance that Israeli and Palestinian officials have rendered to us.
We are shocked by this latest terrorist outrage. The United States government will investigate fully and work with the relevant authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the senseless and brutal attack.
The FBI is sending a team of experts who will focus on evidence-gathering and explosives. This morning the Embassy also issued a circular notice to the American community advising citizens not to remain in Gaza.
The United States will also continue assisting the parties as they seek ways to stop the terror and to achieve peace. This will ultimately be the most enduring response to murderers and terrorists.
I will take a few questions now.
QUESTION: When you spoke with the Prime Minister of the Palestinians, Abu Ala a, did you ask him or did he say anything about during something of the Palestinian officials, the Palestinian security forces against the terrorists after such a terrorist act?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: I did not speak to him personally but the official who did speak to him asked for two things: first, that the Palestinian Authority assist in apprehending those responsible, and second, that the Palestinian Authority assist us in the investigation of this horrible terrorist act.
QUESTION: How much notice was there in Gaza that this convoy would be passing in the area where it happened?
AMBASSADOR KURTER: I am not going to go into those kinds of details now as we conduct our investigation. The Embassy has a lot of business to do in Gaza and we are there very often. We also take security very, very seriously and as I mentioned in my statement the presence of armored vehicles in this convoy meant that we took our security very seriously. The investigation will look into all the other issues.
QUESTION: Are you convinced that it was a directed attack against the U.S., definitely aimed at the U.S.?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: Well, we don t know. This clearly will be part and parcel of the investigation. Three United States personnel were killed and that tells us something very important. But I will leave to the investigators the kind of details that are in your question.
QUESTION: This convoy went only for the academic exchange or they had some other business, like security, like meeting with Palestinian officials, etc.?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: Today s business was primarily to do the interviews for the Fulbright program, but American Embassy officials as I mentioned are in Gaza very often for a variety of business activities related to political and economic matters as well.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Is the American Embassy...going to urge Israel not to respond militarily...(inaudible)...?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: We have said and I think you have heard President Bush very clearly, especially this past week, that we recognize fully Israel s right to defend itself and its citizens and we associate ourselves with that right. In this case, American citizens have been killed and I would expect that we would be consulting on the proper way of reacting to this outrage.
QUESTION: Have you had any claims of responsibility or do you suspect that groups of (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: No, we have not received in any way, any form of communication, any kind of responsibility from any group.
QUESTION: (Inaudible)..appropriate way to respond... will you be helping Israel... (inaudible)
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: As I mentioned in my statement we are conducting an investigation. We want to apprehend those responsible, bring them to justice. We also intend to continue the work that we have been doing in the peace process. Those are the kinds of actions which the United States has taken so far in this region and I would expect that those would continue.
QUESTION: What are the Americans believe (inaudible) doing in Gaza that are associated directly with the government and are there programs that might be harmful as a result of their leaving?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: There are several hundred American citizens in Gaza, both Palestinian-Americans and Americans who are working for a variety of organizations, including humanitarian and other international organizations. The Palestinian-Americans living there obviously will make their own decisions with respect to whether they stay. Those involved in humanitarian and other forms of assistance will also make their decision, hopefully with the input from our message.
QUESTION: Will programs be harmed, do you think?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: I think it remains to be seen. Our hope, given the fact that we ourselves as a Government have invested so much attention and resources in these programs, is that we can continue to provide for Palestinian needs and that would be our deep hope.
QUESTION: As far as (inaudible) direct attacks on U.S. targets in the past three years, have you had any information recently that that might have changed, the American targets might become something (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR KURTZER: We actually don t know. This is the second attack at a U.S. target. One of our cars in Gaza was also attacked at the end of June. So our investigation will take that into account as we assess both the specifics of this terrorist attack today as well as whether or not there is a pattern about which we have to be concerned.