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Arafat seeks militant truce, hints at crackdown
( 2003-08-28 08:44) (Agencies)

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, under pressure to help save a Middle East peace plan, urged militants Wednesday to reinstate a truce canceled after Israel assassinated a Hamas leader.

A Palestinian youth throws stones at an Israeli tank during clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin August 27, 2003.   [Reuters]
Arafat prefaced his appeal by voicing readiness to take action against militants if Israel halted its attacks on them.

"President Yasser Arafat calls upon all the Palestinian factions to reiterate their commitment to the truce to give a chance to international peace efforts to implement the 'road map' which the Israeli government refuses to abide by," Arafat said in a statement.

The White House said peace efforts should focus on dismantling militant networks, and criticized Arafat as an obstacle to peace.

"Actions to dismantle terrorist organizations and to dismantle terrorist networks are what is needed and what's most important," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

"Arafat has once again shown himself to be part of the problem. He is not part of the solution, and the security forces need to be consolidated under Prime Minister (Mahmoud) Abbas.

A Palestinian boy takes part in a demonstration against the construction of the fence that will separate Jerusalem and the eastern neighborhoods of the city August 27, 2003.    [Reuters]
Washington has been pressing the Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants to rescue the road map, which charts reciprocal steps to a Palestinian state by 2005.

Israel discounted Arafat's call as "propaganda" and said it would continue targeting militants until the Palestinian Authority dismantles their organizations.

"We have no choice but to act with severity against the terrorist infrastructure. ... As long as (Palestinians) don't dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, there will not be a continuation of this (peace) process," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Radio.

Senior political leader of the militant group Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, blasted Arafat's move: "Any call to strike at the movements or the resistance is a very dangerous call."

Militants last week canceled a seven-week-old truce after Israel killed Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas political leader, in response to a bombing that killed 21 people in Jerusalem.

Israel has since launched two helicopter strikes on Hamas militants, killing four in one attack. The second strike missed its target and killed a 64-year-old bystander and a 19-year-old civilian who died of his wounds Wednesday. Twenty others were wounded in the attack.


Arafat, locked in a power struggle with the moderate Abbas, said he had given the Palestinian prime minister's cabinet his approval to renew peace efforts with Israel.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian outside the biblical shrine of Rachel's Tomb.

Israeli security sources said the man ran at the soldiers with a knife. Palestinian residents said they did not see a knife, and a Palestinian medic said soldiers prevented his ambulance from reaching the scene.

The incident underscored heightened tensions fanned by the end of the truce declared by militants spearheading a 35-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation.

Shortly before, witnesses said a Palestinian crowd threw stones at Jews arriving by bus to pray at Rachel's Tomb, revered by Jews as the final resting place of the biblical matriarch and Judaism's third holiest site.

Muslims say the real Rachel's Tomb is elsewhere and the compound in question contains a revered old mosque from which they have been barred since Israel captured the site and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.

Arafat said he would not risk a civil war by pouncing on militants before Israel suspended raids and pulled back troops from occupied territory.

"I am prepared to implement the law on condition Israel stops its attacks," Arafat said. "I am not prepared to fuel a Palestinian civil war."

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