Palestinians fired a mortar bomb at a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip late Sunday, just after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ordered an end to all attacks on Israelis, Israeli military sources told AFP.
The mortar round was fired at the settlement of Rafah Yam in the far south of the strip, but did not cause any injuries, they said.
But General Abdel Razek al-Majeida, Palestinian security chief in the Gaza Strip, denied the claim, telling AFP it was an attempt to justify Israel's "escalation and military aggression."
Israel has responded to mortar attacks, mainly directed at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, with helicopter gunship attacks on Palestinian security targets or tank incursions into autonomous Palestinian areas.
The reported attack came only hours after Arafat called for a halt to anti-Israeli operations, saying they served as a pretext for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to increase strikes on Palestinian territories and his administration.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called in an address to his people on Sunday for a halt to all armed activities, including suicide bombings and mortar attacks against Israeli targets. Arafat stressed Israel must stop its own "brutal war" against the brave Palestinian people.
"I today reiterate (a call for) the complete and immediate cessation of all military activities. I renew the call to completely halt any activities, especially suicide attacks which we have condemned and always condemned," Arafat said.
Speaking on Palestinian media, he accused Israel of "launching a brutal war" against the Palestinian Authority and its institutions, and urged Israel to return to peace talks as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian clash.
Arafat mentioned the Palestinian Authority had already declared illegal "groups that carry out terrorist activities".
Reaffirming a commitment to a U.S.-brokered truce that never took hold, Arafat pledged to hunt down and punish those behind armed attacks. (Albawaba.com)
White House: Arafat's words "constructive," but "concrete" action must follow
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's call for a halt to anti-Israeli attacks by radical groups was "constructive," the White House said Sunday, but his words need to be backed by "concrete" action.
"They are constructive words but what is important is that he now take concrete action," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Arafat's televised address Sunday called for an end to anti-Israeli attacks by radical Palestinian groups, while also urging Israel to end its "ferocious" war against the Palestinian people.
Egypt and France Hail Arafat
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher late Sunday hailed as "courageous" the speech delivered by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Maher said that he had called Arafat to assure him of Egypt's support for everything he announced to do in his speech, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
The minister added that he had talked with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell over the phone, calling on the U.S. administration to respond "positively" to Arafat's speech and send the U.S. Mideast peace envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region.
Meanwhile, France praised Arafat’s speech. "France applauds the clear nature of the commitments laid out by Yasser Arafat, hopes that concrete action will follow and reiterates that in order for that to occur, the Palestinian Authority needs the means to act," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in a brief statement.
Israel says Arafat's words must be followed by action
Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said Sunday Yasser Arafat must follow up words with action after an address by the Palestinian leader calling for a halt to anti-Israeli attacks and pledging to punish those responsible.
"Words will not do. There has to be deeds. He has to make the arrests to stop the terrorists on their way already to conduct terrorist activity in Jerusalem and Haifa and Beer Sheva," Gissin told reporters.
"And he has the names. He has the list, he knows exactly what to do. I would put a moratorium on declarations. Just do what you need to do," he said in a sceptical response to Arafat's televised address to his people.
He also told CNN television said that the sudden lull in violence that marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan Sunday proved that Arafat can control the violence in the Palestinian territories when he wants to.
"This is Eid al Fitr, a holiday of peace for the Arabs and indeed there were no attacks today in the territories, which by the way points out that when Arafat wants to control the situation he can control it," he said.
However, another government spokesman gave a more upbeat assessment of the address. "The speech had some positive elements, such as his call to end the suicide bombings," said Arie Mekel, although he said the government had been expecting a condemnation of "terrorism in general."
Mekel said there were "missing elements" that Israel had been hoping to see in the speech, such as a clear call to end the intifada and an end of incitement.
Arafat called for an end to all attacks on Israel, the strongest statement he has made so far in favour of cooling the armed confrontation which the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, has become since starting as street protests in September 2000. (AFP)
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