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Arafat appeals for an end to suicide attacks

20 June 2002

Yasser Arafat today appealed to Palestinian militias to halt attacks on Israeli civilians, after two suicide bombings over two days killed 26 Israelis and sent Israeli troops back into four West Bank towns.

In Israel, there were growing divisions over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to gradually seize Palestinian areas and occupy them as long as terror attacks continues. Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, leader of the moderate Labour Party, said he strongly opposed long term reoccupation of Palestinian areas.

The bombings in Jerusalem prompted President George Bush to put his proposals for a Palestinian state on hold.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Mr Arafat condemned attacks on Israeli civilians and said shootings and bombings "must be completely halted." Otherwise, he warned, the result might be "full Israeli occupation of our lands."

The Palestinian leader said he had called for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians "because we are against killing any civilians, whether Palestinians or Israelis." But he said Israel, through its military actions, is "preventing all our efforts" to end the violence.

"On a daily basis, there are new incursions into Palestinian villages, cities and towns. They are continuing their killing," he said in brief comments to reporters.

But the Islamic militant group Hamas said it would not stop the bombings. "If we have an effective weapon in our hands and the whole world is trying to take it off us, this kind of reaction shows it to be the most effective way," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack on a Jerusalem bus that killed 19 Israelis, the worst in Jerusalem in six years.

Mr Sharon, speaking at the Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, said: "This is the worst moment and the loneliest moment. When I get this terrible news, silence hangs in the air."

A bombing yesterday at a Jerusalem bus stop killed seven Israelis, including a 59 year old grandmother and her five year old grandaughter. Arabic television channels reported conflicting responsibility claims, and it wasn't clear who was behind the blast.

In response, Israeli forces moved into Bethlehem and the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp, declaring a curfew and taking over controlling positions in the town, the military said. Also, troops moved into Beitunia, a suburb of Ramallah, and searched for suspects. The statement said soldiers would remain in the two locations "until the mission's goals are accomplished."

Beitunia residents were ordered over loudspeakers to stay in their homes. Three armored personnel carriers, a tank and a military jeep were parked outside a five floor building, one of three positions taken over by the Israeli army. Building residents peered out from their windows.

Israeli troops were in control of two other towns, Jenin and Qalqiliya, setting up command posts and enforcing curfews, an example of the new Israeli policy.

In the Jenin camp, troops rounded up about 2,500 boys and men between the ages of 15 and 50 on Wednesday and took them in buses to a nearby army camp for questioning. About 1,000 men were released overnight, said Mohammed Ballas, a Palestinian journalist who was among those rounded up.

Israeli helicopters and warplanes also pounded Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip, wounding 13 Palestinians.

Ibrahim Hazboun
Published in the Independent © 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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