Middle East Crisis Headlines – April 4, 2001

Wednesday, April 4, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Middle East Crisis Headlines – April 4, 2001

After nearly two weeks marred by some of the worst violence since the “Al-Aksa jihad” was launched on the Temple Mount last September, high-level contacts resumed today between Israeli and Palestinian officials. Mediated by two Spanish diplomats representing the European Union, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with Palestinian cabinet minister Nabil Shaath and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat for over two hours in Athens. The participants said afterwards that the discussions had gone reasonably well. Both sides reportedly presented plans to re-start formal peace negotiations. However, Prime Minister Areil Sharon said again today that peace talks will not resume until Palestinian terror attacks are suspended. The Israeli proposal was based on the immediate halt of Palestinian armed attacks, accompanied by continued easing of the Israeli army closure around Palestinian-controlled towns. Formal peace negotiations would then be resumed. The Palestinians proposed setting up a joint security commission that would oversee the implementation of a ceasefire accord agreed to last October at a summit meeting held at a Sinai resort. Other committees would work on lifting the closure, releasing Israeli-held taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority, resuming full security cooperation, and other measures. Israeli officials say an American-mediated security meeting may take place as early as this evening on the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

The resumed discussions came after another day of intense violence in the disputed territories—which both sides are now calling “limited war”–and yet another terror attack inside Israel. Eight Israeli civilians were lightly injured last night when a nail-packed bomb blew up in a truck parked near their apartment building north of Tel Aviv. Earlier, Palestinians fired three mortar shells into an Israeli civilian settlement in the Gaza Strip, severely injuring a 15-month-old baby boy who was playing outside his family home. The toddler, Ariel Yered, was struck in the head, back and legs by flying shrapnel. Doctors operated into the night to save the baby’s life. He remains in critical condition in a Beersheva hospital today. His mother—more lightly injured by shrapnel from the blast–was hanging clothes nearby when the sudden attack took place. A group of children playing in the area of the explosions were sparred injury in the bombing, which Israeli authorities said had all the hallmarks of earlier attacks by Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 presidential guard.

Four more Palestinian mortar shells were fired overnight into another Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, but no casualties were reported. The army returned mortar fire on the shelling positions this morning. Army officials say that the PA has apparently established a mortar-producing factory in the area, given the high quantity of shells fired in recent weeks. Meanwhile an officer in Arafat’s small navy, detained by Israeli authorities over the weekend, admitted to security officials that he and other naval personnel had planted a bomb on PA instructions in the town of Netanya last week.

In light of the fresh evidence that Arafat’s forces are continuing their involvement in attacks on Israeli civilians, Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer decided to order another major strike on Arafat’s security positions in the Gaza Strip last night. The 45-minute operation began around 8:00 PM, and was broadcast live on both Israeli and Palestinian television stations. Israeli helicopter warships and tanks opened fire on four PA-connected positions in the Gaza Strip, most of them Force 17 bases. Some missiles reportedly hit close to Arafat’s offices in Gaza City. Palestinian officials claimed that over 70 people, mostly civilians, had been wounded in the attack, but televised pictures of the supposed wounded showed that most had only received light wounds, if any at all. PA forces immediately responded to the Israeli operation by shooting mortar shells at the Israeli army command center in Gush Katif, which had been previously evacuated in anticipation of return Palestinian fire. Shots were also fired at army roadblocks in various locations during the night, lightly injuring an Israeli soldier near Bethlehem.

Palestinian legislator Hannan Ashrawi declared that the army strikes had “escalated the situation beyond sanity.” However, an Israeli government spokesman said it was the Palestinians who were “bringing the situation to the point of no return by deliberately shooting bullets and mortars at Jewish children and mothers.” The spokesman also condemned PA television’s assertion on Tuesday that the 10-month-old baby girl killed by Palestinian sniper fire over one week ago in Hebron had been “murdered by its mother because she suffered from disabilities.” The spokesman said, “This lie is so arrogant and outrageous as to disgust any normal human being.”

The Israeli spokesman also poured cold water on a US government report issued yesterday that basically absolved Arafat of responsibility for the violent Palestinian uprising. The State Department report acknowledged that PA police forces and militiamen belonging to Arafat’s PLO Fatah movement had participated in many attacks upon Israeli civilians and soldiers and “had not been disciplined” by Arafat for doing so, but added that there is “no evidence” that Arafat had directly ordered them to do so. The Israeli spokesman noted that Arafat has repeatedly said in public that, “the violent uprising will continue until the Palestinian flag is raised above the walls, churches and mosques of Jerusalem, which obviously encourages the armed attacks to continue, at the very least.”

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