Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Arafat Agrees to Implement Sharm Truce, but Rioting Continues
Arafat Agrees to Implement Sharm Truce, but Rioting Continues
Early Thursday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak suspended a series of military strikes on Palestinian targets planned in retaliation for the death of three IDF soldiers yesterday, after cabinet minister Shimon Peres met late last night in Gaza with PLO chief Yasser Arafat and worked out an "agreement" for implementing the terms of the Sharm e-Sheikh truce.
The dramatic turn of events came after one of the most intense days of fighting yet in the month-old Palestinian uprising, as Palestinian gunmen and police battled Israeli forces in fierce fire-fights at the Karni crossing into central Gaza, in and around the Bethlehem area and in Jericho. Two IDF soldiers were killed and four wounded in a heated five-hour clash at Al Khader, near Solomon's Pool below Bethlehem, and another Israeli soldier died and one was wounded in a skirmish at the IDF's Elisha outpost near Jericho. Two Palestinians died in the battle at Karni yesterday, while a Palestinian policeman and two other Palestinians died in Judea/Samaria, with about 100 wounded. In a terrorist incident in Jerusalem around 7:00 pm last night, a pipe bomb exploded underneath a vehicle parked near the Jerusalem Theatre, with two people injured by the blast.
As a result of the Palestinian escalation in violence and IDF casualties, Barak convened his security cabinet last night to consider IDF demands for a tough response, and approved "a number of operative steps," the Prime Minister's Office said. Although the decisions were kept secret, it is believed that specific targets were selected for retaliatory strikes. Around midnight, Arabs living near Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron and elsewhere were ordered to evacuate their homes, taken as a sign of impending IDF attacks.
But at the same time, Peres and Barak adviser Gilad Sher helicoptered into Gaza to hold discussions with Arafat about finding a way around the spiraling violence. Early this morning, Barak's office announced that an "agreement" had been reached with Arafat which included a series of steps for implementing the cease-fire brokered by US President Bill Clinton at Sharm e-Sheikh in the Sinai on October 17.
At another emergency meeting of the security cabinet early Thursday morning, it was decided to suspend the retaliatory raids against the Palestinian Authority for the deaths of three soldiers. ISRAEL RADIO reported that the two sides would implement agreed steps beginning Thursday morning, and that at midday Arafat and Barak would make radio addresses to announce an end to all violence.
Commenting at the end of the meeting, Peres said that he and Arafat had "discussed the way to bring about the Sharm al-Sheikh understandings, and bring an end to the violence," and that the two had spoken about calming the current outbreak of violent clashes in order to return to negotiations on a final status agreement.
The Peres-Arafat meeting led to the decision to hold fire, at least temporarily. Barak's office said the meeting had resulted in agreement on a series of steps designed to renew security cooperation and an end to violence and incitement. The statement said retaliatory measures decided on by the security cabinet would be suspended in order to give a chance for the violence to be stopped.
On the ground this morning, the IDF began to pull back tanks and equipment from Palestinian towns in accordance with the understandings reached during the early hours of the morning. Israeli and Palestinian officers are due to meet today to discuss the implementation of the new steps.
The IDF has handed over a fortified position at the hotly-contested Karni crossing to the Palestinians. A short while ago, Palestinian police at the spot prevented Palestinians who had gathered there from throwing stones. Jewish settlers from Netzarim who saw the changeover this morning have expressed dismay.
The Palestinian side has been slow to announce the agreement to its people through official media and other means. Fatah sources said that they had heard of the reports only from the Israeli media. An assistant to Fatah warlord Marwan Barghouteh said that the Fatah planned to continue its armed struggle.
Hamas said this morning it will not honor the new Israeli-Palestinian understanding. Hamas spokesman Mahmoud al-Zahhar said, "We don't agree to stop the Intifada and we are going to escalate our activities in order to continue our uprising."
The IDF's chief spokesman said this morning the army has received orders to begin withdrawing tanks and to gradually lift the closures on Palestinian cities. He noted that there had been three or four previous cease-fires that had failed to hold and that Israel was looking for quiet over the next 48 hours before some of the steps could be taken safely.
Despite the agreed truce, there already are reports of major incidents taking place since the agreement was announced before dawn. A Palestinian reportedly was killed this morning in a clash with Israeli forces in Hizmeh, which borders north-east Jerusalem. Hundreds of Palestinians have been burning tires and throwing stones at the Kfar Darom settlement and at the Karni-Netzarim junction, in Gaza, near the IDF outpost abandoned earlier today. The Netzarim road has been closed and the IDF has passed control of the road to the Palestinian police. PA police are not attempting to break up the demonstrations. Meanwhile, a Palestinian man died in Gaza this morning from wounds sustained in a clash Wednesday, bringing to 165 the number of people killed in five weeks.
There are violent disturbances continuing elsewhere throughout Gaza, with firebombs thrown at the industrial area at Neve Dekalim. Also in Hebron, there are demonstrations being staged in the Arab market area and at the Halhoul bypass road near Hebron.
Peres this morning praised Barak's decision to give the Palestinians a chance to stop the violence, saying it was a difficult decision to take "while the blood was boiling," but that the understandings would prevent an even worse bloodbath. Peres said the Palestinians are in very grave trouble with 8,000 - 10,000 wounded, 200 dead, and 300,000 unemployed, according to their figures. If normalization is achieved, Peres said, negotiations could resume in Washington the day after the US presidential elections.
In Washington yesterday, acting Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami told reporters after meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the situation was a "mini-war." "We need to address this issue not as a civilian uprising, but as a military confrontation," he said, with the aim of restarting peace talks once the violence ends.
Prior to the security cabinet meeting, Barak briefly addressed the nation, saying that while Israel will not sit with "folded arms," it is necessary to know "when to hit, and also to keep one's cool even during the most difficult times."
"Israel will not sit with its hands tied... We will do what we need to to defend our soldiers," Barak said, adding, "some difficult days are ahead of us... We will face difficult moments in the struggle, but if we know to stand together we shall win and restore peace and security to Israel," he continued.
On Tuesday night, Arafat also met with Transportation Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Barak confidant Yossi Ginossar. Barak also spoke by phone to Arafat last week.
Palestinian officials said Arafat expected Peres to convey the message that Barak's government is sorry for claiming that Arafat is no longer a peace partner. Arafat took the statements as a personal threat and insult, one Palestinian source close to the leadership said. He said that was also the message conveyed by Ginossar and Shahak on Tuesday night.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.