Sunday, 16 December 2001

Arafat's call for peace met with skepticism

16 December 2001

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in a televised address Sunday to the Israeli and Palestinian people, called for an end to "armed attacks" and suicide bombings against Israel.

He also called for peace talks and said he wished to see a real Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital coexisting with Israel.

Arafat's address crushed hopes that he would issue a clear call for an end to the 15-month intifada (uprising) against Israel. He did not mention Hamas or Islamic Jihad by name. The militant Palestinian groups have been declared terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union.

The Palestinian leader has been under intense pressure from the international community to rein in terrorists who have stepped up a campaign of suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilians.

In response to Sunday's address, Israeli and U.S. leaders said they were still waiting for Arafat to take action against terrorists. "Nobody heard anything we haven't heard before," Israeli Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai said. "The proof will be in his actions, not his words."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Arafat's words "constructive" but said, "He must turn these important words into effective and sustained action against terror and violence."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking on Fox News Sunday, blamed the Palestinians for the breakdown of truce talks mediated by special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni. Powell recalled Zinni to Washington over the weekend amid a new wave of Palestinian attacks and Israeli retaliation. "We sent Gen. Zinni over to try to get that dialogue going, and all of that was blown up by these terrorist organizations on the Palestinian side," he said.

Reading a prepared statement in a broadcast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Arafat said, "I reaffirm the comprehensive and immediate cessation of all armed attacks, and I renew my call for a comprehensive halt of any attacks or operations, especially the suicide attacks which we have always condemned."

Arafat called for a renewal of the dialogue that produced "the peace of the brave" — a reference to his 1993 peace accord with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. "We are not asking for the impossible, and we do not pose any threat to Israel's existence," he assured Israelis.

Earlier on Sunday, Palestinian security forces closed down offices and institutions linked to Hamas, which has taken responsibility for a wave of recent attacks in which more than 40 Israelis have died.

Israeli forces, meanwhile, continued military operations in Palestinian towns and villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza. More than a dozen Palestinians were killed over the weekend. Last week, Israel said it was cutting ties with Arafat and would be responsible for the security of its citizens.

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