Monday 30 April 2001

Israel pledges relief for barred Palestinian workers

The Globe and Mail,
Monday, April 30, 2001

By Matthew Kalman

JERUSALEM -- Israel promised yesterday to ease the economic plight of thousands of Palestinians who have been unable to work inside Israel for the past several months.
However, violence continued against Israeli targets, including a suicide attack involving a school bus that killed only the bomber.

Hopes for an end to the violence rose briefly as Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres held talks with Egyptian and Jordanian leaders before leaving for New York, where he is to meet United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today. On Thursday, Mr. Peres is to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.

A statement yesterday by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to a ceasefire spurred a flurry of interest -- but was later deemed to be premature.

"The two sides have agreed to a ceasefire," Mr. Mubarak said after talks in Cairo with Mr. Peres. "After a ceasefire of four weeks, negotiations between the two sides will start to reach a solution to the current situation."

But asked later whether they had agreed to a ceasefire, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters: "No, they are still talking about the matter."

Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Mr. Peres said Israel would immediately adopt measures to help residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza who have been forced out of work because of security measures designed to stop Palestinian terrorists entering Israel.

More than 11,000 of the 60,000 Palestinians who work in Israel have already been given permission to resume work.

Within Palestinian ranks, there were conflicting reports about a possible truce. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was reported to have repeated his call for an end to mortar attacks against Israeli settlements and towns. But Marwan Barghouti, leader of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, said that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Israeli government should declare a unilateral ceasefire.

"There is no ceasefire with the Sharon-Peres government," Mr. Barghouti said. "If Israel wants to bring a halt it must stop shooting."

In the West Bank yesterday, a busload of Israeli school children escaped harm when a car bomb exploded in the road as their bus passed the settlement of Shavei Shomron. Police found remains of a body in the car and believe the explosion was a Palestinian suicide attack.