Thursday, 13 December 2001

U.S. envoy weighs giving up his cease-fire mission

13 December 2001

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

RAMALLAH, West Bank — U.S. peace envoy Anthony Zinni was considering whether to continue his 2-week cease-fire mission in the face of Israel's refusal to deal with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leader's failure to carry out his promise to close down extremist installations.

Zinni has been trying to negotiate a cease-fire and create an atmosphere in which Arafat could move decisively against the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups. He will decide by Sunday whether to give up on his efforts. The United States and Israel have labeled both Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations. They are responsible for a new wave of bloody attacks against Israelis.

Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles Thursday at security targets in Gaza and in the West Bank, including a Palestinian government building in Ramallah and an office of Arafat's Fatah organization in Jenin. The attacks were retaliation for Wednesday's terrorist ambush near an Israeli settlement that killed 10 Israelis.

A U.S. official familiar with Zinni's efforts said the main stumbling block to implementing a cease-fire was Arafat's refusal to make the "hard decision" to end terrorist activity.

But Israel also came under renewed scrutiny for declaring it will cut off contact with Arafat. Secretary of State Colin Powell directed Zinni and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer on Thursday to seek an explanation from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the Israeli Cabinet's action. He also referred to Arafat as "the elected head of the Palestinian Authority."

Israeli Cabinet ministers announced early Thursday that contact with Arafat was being cut. But they stressed there were no plans to topple him. "We have reached the point where Arafat has ceased being relevant as far as Israel is concerned to deal with the whole question of terrorism," Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said. "From today onward, we will do everything we have to as a nation to defend ourselves."

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior Arafat adviser, called Israel's new attacks "a formal declaration of war."

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