US Notes ‘Encouraging’ Signs of Easing Tensions in Palestinian Territories, Urges Halt to 'Terrorism'

Published June 5th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The United States acknowledged Monday that there had been some "encouraging signs of reducing violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, but urged both sides to work to "prevent future acts of terrorism" and achieve lasting peace, reported AFP. 

"We feel that we've seen statements that are encouraging, we've seen instructions that are encouraging, we've seen statements in both the Arabic media and the international media from (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a press briefing in Washington. 

"We've also seen some reduction in the level of violence," he said, but he added that "the goal has been and must be that Chairman Arafat and both sides really do everything they can to reduce the violence." 

"We need to see further steps, we need to see further efforts and we need to see a further reduction in the violence to make it a real ceasefire and to make it last," Boucher said Monday, quoted by the agency. 

"We want to put some emphasis on the need to prevent future acts of terrorism," he added, "that we see the need to make sure that the kind of bombings that were carried out last week and before that are not allowed to be repeated. And we think there is action that the Palestinian security forces can take to prevent those things from occurring." 

"What matters in the end is whether people die or not, is whether there are attacks or not, is whether there's terrorism or not, is whether people have a chance to start normal lives again," Boucher said. 

Boucher also reiterated the US position that Israelis and Palestinians should implement the recommendations of the international commission led by former US senator George Mitchell in a step toward ending the clashes that erupted in late September. 

The commission has called for an unconditional end to the violence, followed by a cooling-off period, confidence-building measures and a return to negotiations. 

Asked if Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet would travel to the Middle East to try to broker security talks between Israelis and Palestinians, Boucher said: "It's under consideration, and that's where it is for the moment," declining to offer a possible timeline or further details on Tenet's potential travel plans. 

Israel Radio had reported Sunday that Tenet would arrive in the “coming days.” 

In Jerusalem, Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin told AFP that "Mr. Tenet is expected in Israel very soon as part of a US initiative aimed at promoting security meetings," but he would not specify the date of the visit. 

Tenet traveled to the Middle East last year, under the administration of then president Bill Clinton, to try to renew security contacts between the two parties. 

 

POWELL URGES ARAFAT TO ARREST PLANNERS OF TEL AVIV BOMBING  

 

US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Arafat on Monday to arrest those “responsible for the Tel Aviv nightclub bombing that killed 20 Israelis,” said Haaretz newspaper.  

In a telephone call after a White House strategy session, Powell leaned on Arafat to go beyond his offer of a ceasefire and his order that attacks on Israel be halted, a US official said.  

Trying to build on Monday's reduced violence, Powell also telephoned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to urge him to refrain from retaliation.  

Powell's calls followed a strategy session held at the White House with other senior administration officials, said the paper.  

Powell told Sharon that violence must be scaled down considerably before other peacemaking efforts could begin.  

 

HAMAS DENIES IT ACCEPTED ARAFAT'S CEASEFIRE DECLARATION 

 

The Hamas Islamic resistance movement has denied that it reached an agreement with Arafat to accept his ceasefire declaration, reported Al Jazeera staellite channel. 

The TV report said that the movement announced in a statement that it would continue its struggle against Israel. 

Earlier, reports said that following a meeting between Arafat and representatives of 13 factions to discuss the declared-yet-broken ceasefire, the military wings of the mainstream Fateh and the Islamist Hamas movements declared conditional cessation of suicide attacks.  

Both movements set as a condition that Israel accept a withdrawal from the occupied territories.  

"We are going to stop our operations in our lands which are occupied since 1948 as of Monday midnight (2100 GMT)... to give the Israeli people a chance to ask their government to stop their terror against our people...and withdraw from our occupied land," the two groups said in a joint statement issued in Gaza City, the first of its kind.  

The document is signed by the Ezzeddin Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas, and by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a branch of Fateh faction.  

In an interview with Abu Dhabi satellite channel, Fateh's secretary in the West bank, Marwan Barghouthi, said that the representatives of the factions, known as the Nationalist and Islamist Forces, had listened to Arafat's assessment of the situation and showed understanding, while they, for their part, had insisted on going on with the Intifada until the Israeli occupation ended.  

Apparently, there has been an agreement that the protests take their original form: peaceful mass protests, rather than shootings and bombs.  

"Tomorrow [Tuesday] will witness rallies in all Palestinian towns," said Barghouthi.  

The 13-movement coalition stressed in a joint statement that "the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against aggression, occupation and colonization and to continue the Intifada, is one of their legitimate rights."  

The group called on the Palestinians to "continue popular demonstrations to underline the continuation of the Intifada," said AFP.  

Meanwhile, the leader had told AFP that the ceasefire ordered two days ago by Arafat only applied to autonomous sectors under full Palestinian control.  

"We understand that the ceasefire ordered by Arafat only applies to "A" sectors (under full Palestinian control), from which it will be forbidden to fire, and that the Intifada will continue," Barghouthi told the agency.  

He added that the president's ceasefire order was "aimed at averting an Israeli retaliation" after the suicide attack which killed 20 Israelis and the bomber in Tel Aviv Friday night.  

He told the station that the order "observed the high national interest of the Palestinians."  

In the meantime, Haaretz reported that the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) declared overnight Monday that they would not back Arafat’s ceasefire call. The paper did not elaborate on the factions’ refusal to accept the ceasefire. 

 

TWENTY-FIVE PALESTINIANS INJURED IN RENEWED CLASHES WITH ISRAELI FORCES  

 

Twenty-five Palestinians were wounded, at least two seriously, Monday when Israeli troops shelled areas at the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt, said reports.  

Following the shelling, an exchange of fire took place between armed Palestinians and Israeli occupation troops, said AFP.  

It was the first exchange of fire between the two sides since President Arafat ordered a ceasefire on Saturday.  

Two of the Palestinians were seriously injured, reported Al Jazeera satellite TV channel.  

Israeli army tanks started firing machinegun rounds and shells into Palestinian land, a Palestinian security official said.  

Armed Palestinians then fired back, a Palestinian official told AFP, adding that they were not members of the Palestinian Authority's security forces.  

After a heavy exchange of fire, Palestinian security forces intervened and succeeded in stopping the gunmen from firing, the official said, adding that Israeli forces continued shooting.  

Palestinian homes were damaged by shrapnel from tank shells, while doctors said the 15 Palestinians, including at least four boys, were wounded by bullets and shrapnel.  

Meanwhile, five Israeli soldiers were injured when they tried to enter a residential area in Rafah, Gaza Strip, said Al Jazeera satellite channel.  

AFP said three Israeli soldiers were injured.  

Israeli radio stations also reported that Palestinians fired anti-tank grenades and light weapons at Israeli troops in the town, but there were no injuries or damage.  

But Israeli military officials said that only one soldier and an officer were light injured.  

Mortar shells also hit Israeli targets in the Gaza Strip, leaving no one injured, with bombs falling by the Sufa border crossing with Israel near the site of the gunbattle, the Israeli army reported, cited by AFP.  

 

PAPAL ENVOY BRANDS ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS A 'PROVOCATION'  

 

AFP also reported that a Papal envoy to the Middle East on Monday called Israeli settlements in the West Bank a "provocation" that had triggered a disproportionate and unjustifiable, albeit understandable Palestinian reaction.  

In an interview with Radio Vatican, Cardinal Pio Laghi said that Pope John Paul II's appeal for a ceasefire was being heard by Israelis and Palestinians, but with huge difficulties.  

"Overall, the pope's message has been heard with much respect" by both sides, he said.  

Laghi earlier said in an interview with AFP that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was making "extraordinary efforts" to bring violence in the Middle East under control in spite of serious tensions.  

Laghi traveled to Jerusalem on Thursday to hand over personal messages for Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, pleading for a ceasefire in the region.  

Laghi said that the "messages were accepted with much interest and respect for the pope.”  

For Sharon "peace is equivalent to security; naturally security is based on a number of conditions," he said in his interview with Radio Vatican.  

"For example, these settlements in the territories which should be returned to the Palestinian Authority are in a sense a provocation, to say the least.  

"It triggers an absolutely disproportionate and unjustifiable reaction by the other side, which is however a bit understandable."  

Laghi met with Arafat after the funeral of senior Palestinian official Faisal Al Husseini on Friday.  

"I was surprised that Arafat would dedicate so much time to us, to our mission after the death of his friend and aide," he added.  

Pope John Paul II is to be given a full report of Laghi's meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The report is already in the hands of the Vatican's number two, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.  

The Middle East crisis was also discussed between the Palestinian Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, and the pontiff in the Vatican on Monday, but nothing emerged from the meeting.  

The patriarch's visit to the pope had been scheduled for some time but gained new interest because of the current crisis, said Laghi.  

"Sabbah can also explain the Palestinian position to the pope," he added.  

In his message to Sharon, the pope reportedly appealed for a halt to the violence that has raged for eight months.  

Sharon's office said that the premier requested that the papal delegation "use its influence and deliver an unequivocal message to Arafat to order an immediate cessation of all acts of terror, murder and incitement."  

The pope has made repeated appeals for peace between Israel and the Palestinians since violence erupted in September last year.  

During Sunday mass in Saint Peter's square he prayed for the "young victims of absurd violence" after Friday's suicide bombing. 

Since the outbreak of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict last September, Reuters reports that Palestinians have killed approximately 88 Israelis with weapons ranging from stones and knives to machineguns and car bombs. The latest suicide bombing raises that toll by at least 20. Israeli military sources have reported well over 600 injuries to Israelis of Jewish descent.  

In the same time period, according to CNN, Israeli soldiers and armed Jewish settlers have killed 13 Arab Israelis and 450 Palestinians with weapons ranging from machineguns and tanks to US-made Apache helicopter gunships and F-16s. Nearly 100 of the Palestinians killed to date, according to Amnesty International, were children. 

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society has reported over 14,000 Palestinians wounded.  

Jewish author Noam Chomsky, who according to a New York Times Book Review article is “arguably the most important intellectual alive,” has been quoted as saying: “State terrorism is an extreme form of terrorism, generally much worse than individual terrorism because it has the resources of a state behind it.” - Albawaba.com 

 

 

 

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