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Middle East Crisis Headlines - April 5, 2001

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Middle East Crisis Headlines - April 5, 2001

Renewed high level contacts on Wednesday between Israeli and Palestinian political and security officials are being followed up today by fresh tensions and violence. Reports said a car being driven by an Israeli civilian was fired upon by Force 17 agents in Hebron after the driver, from a town north of Tel Aviv, accidentally entered Palestinian-controlled territory in the divided town. A Palestinian bomb was earlier defused at the entrance to a Jewish settlement in Samaria. More ominously, Palestinian officials are expressing sharp anger after a convoy carrying senior Palestinian Authority personnel, including Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan and PA intelligence chief Amin-al Hindi, was fired upon by Israeli soldiers at the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip during the night. Israeli soldiers on the scene say they were only returning Palestinian fire, insisting that shots were first directed at them from the lead car in the convoy. Army leaders say they are investigating the incident, but added that their preliminary findings confirmed the soldier's account. The border guards showed reporters bullet holes in their outpost that they said came from the unprovoked Palestinian fire. Three of Dahlan's bodyguards were lightly wounded in the exchange of bullets. Dahlan, who called on Monday for nearby Arab states to help the Palestinians "confront Israel military aggression," portrayed the Israeli shooting as "another aggressive Israeli provocation meant to force us to submit to their dictates."

The serious incident came as the Palestinian officials were returning from late night security talks with their Israeli counterparts. The talks were held at an undisclosed location, although Israeli media reports indicated they took place at the home of US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk north of Tel Aviv. Israel was represented by General Security Service head Avi Dichter. The talks--coming amid a recent upsurge of fighting that both sides have portrayed as verging on fullscale war--were reportedly mediated by American officials, including CIA agents. The US security agency had supposedly been ordered by the Bush administration several weeks ago to give up its role as a go-between due to ongoing Palestinian violence.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with senior PA cabinet minister Nabil Shaath and negotiator Saeb Erekat in Athens. Peres said afterwards he told the Palestinian officials that peace talks would not be formally resumed until the escalating Arab terrorist violence is halted. He denied that the talks themselves constituted renewed negotiations: "We exchanged ideas, not negotiations," he told reporters. However Erekat said the talks had indeed "focused on political issues" including the PA demand that any renewed peace talks must start at the point they left off under the previous Barak government. Israeli PM Ariel Sharon has said several times that concessions offered by the former government are no longer on the negotiating table. Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi attacked Peres for holding talks with the Palestinians "while Jewish children are being shelled by PA fire." Some Palestinian groups also condemned the European Union-mediated talks, saying that PA officials were surrendering to intense American pressure to halt the uprising.

Three left-wing Israeli Knesset members met with Yasser Arafat on Tuesday in Ramallah, one day after a Labor party member held talks with the Palestinian leader in the same town. The female legislators said they had received permission from Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to meet with Arafat. They said they urged the PA leader to quell the violence and return to the negotiating process. Arafat denied that he had given orders to his security forces to carry out attacks upon Israeli targets. Meanwhile it was confirmed yesterday that PM Sharon's son Omri met with Arafat on Saturday night at his father's behest. Acknowledging media reports that the meeting had occurred, Sharon's office said that Omri carried a message from his father telling Arafat that "the violence must stop." Israeli media accounts said the message also contained a warning that the PM would order much harsher reprisal measures if the recent spate of terror attacks continue.

Tensions remain high in the town of Hebron, south of Jerusalem, where Israeli forces demolished several homes on Wednesday which were being constructed by Palestinians without required permits. Palestinians regularly complain that it takes them forever to acquire official permission to build in zones still under Israeli military control. An Israeli rabbi was arrested while protesting the demolition of another Arab dwelling under construction north of Jerusalem. The American-born rabbi charged that the demolitions were "only adding unnecessary fuel to the fires raging around us." Israeli army officials responded that they were simply carrying out government orders to prevent illegal and unsupervised construction, which officials say has exploded in recent months. They said an additional 30 demolition orders had been issued in and around Jerusalem yesterday, giving the owners time to stop illegal building before the army intervenes.

Funerals are taking place today for five IDF soldiers killed in a tragic military accident on Wednesday near Hebron. They died when their armored personnel carrier overturned southwest of the holy town. An initial investigation suggested that the vehicle was moving down a hill too fast when it flipped over and crushed the soldiers whose upper bodies were outside of the protective army vehicle--which is against standing army regulations. The artillery corps members were on their way to help secure the area for a scheduled visit by Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Middle East Crisis Headlines - April 5, 2001