On Tuesday, the Islamic Resistance movement Hamas officially claimed responsibility for Sunday’s shooting attack in southern Israel. According to the statement issued by the military wing of Hamas, the two attackers identified as Muhammad Misbah al Batat, 23 and Khalid Khalil Jibril al Tel, 22. Both were Hamas members from the West Bank town of Ad Dhariyyeh, south of Hebron.
Two Israeli female soldiers were killed and at least five other Israelis were wounded in Sunday armed attack at the entrance to the Israel's Southern Command headquarters in Be'er Sheva.
Also on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to Israel to put an end to the virtual house arrest of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and called on both sides to stop the deadly spiral of violence and return to the negotiating table, AP reported.
Obviously directing his remarks at Israel, Annan said making progress on security-related issues "without addressing the occupation will not bring lasting security", and that "preconditions" ought not to become barriers to progress toward peace.
In some of his harshest remarks on the more than 16-month conflict, Annan said the peace process is "in distress" and "the situation on the ground has deteriorated to unprecedented levels," with over 1,100 dead and up to 20,000 wounded, the majority of them Palestinians.
"The parties should move away from confrontation and recriminations, and return to the negotiating table," he said, emphasizing that the first step must be to start implementing a truce deal drafted last year by CIA chief George Tenet.
In an intent to end attacks on Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government has blockaded Palestinian towns, assassinated Palestinian operatives, and conducted military incursions that have destroyed much of the infrastructure of Palestinian-ruled territory.
In addition, Israel has placed tanks outside Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, confining him up there from early December.
For his part, Sharon has rejected Palestinian cries to put an end to these operations, saying the Palestinians must first crack down on “terrorism.” The Israeli Prime Minister said Arafat would have to arrest the Palestinians responsible for the October assassination of former Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi as well as those involved in what Israel claims was a plot to smuggle a shipload of weapons from Iran to the Palestinian Authority by sea.
Annan said, "the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure will only increase the difficulty it has in meeting both its political and its security commitments."
"Certainly, the virtual house arrest imposed on president Arafat should be lifted," the secretary-general said in an address opening the 2002 session of the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
On his part, Palestinian envoy Nasser Al-Kidwa told the U.N. committee Israel was not only trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority "and any potential for peace" but was trying to inflict maximum suffering on its people by destroying what's left of its infrastructure.
"These actions are accelerating the dangerous slide of the whole region towards war and confrontation," he said.
Nasser Al-Kidwa blamed the United States for permitting Sharon and his government "to escape the peace process, to thwart the existing agreements, to put aside and refuse implementation of the Mitchell recommendations, and finally to wage an all-out attack against the Palestinian Authority and its leaders."
Previously, President George W. Bush has said the Palestinians must do more to reduce attacks on Israel.
Annan has been working with the United States, Russia and the European Union to achieve a cease-fire and reactivate the weakened political process. (Albawaba.com)
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