Monday 29 July 2002

Palestinian militants plan new offer to end attacks

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY
29 July, 2002

JERUSALEM — Palestinian militant groups said Monday that they plan to renew their offer to end attacks against Israeli civilians despite last week's Israeli airstrike that killed an extremist leader and more than a dozen Palestinian civilians in Gaza City.

The proposed moratorium on attacks against civilians in Israel and the occupied territories was scheduled to be announced last week. But the announcement was put on hold after an Israeli F-16 warplane bombed the Gaza residence of Salah Shehadeh, leader of the military wing of the Hamas resistance movement. Also killed in the attack: a senior aide to Shehadeh and 15 civilians.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he did not believe the efforts to achieve a moratorium on attacks against Israelis were serious. His comments came as Israeli officials floated their own confidence-building proposals. They say they want to alleviate the hardships caused by security measures, which have prompted international criticism.

Israel also granted 5,000 more work permits to Palestinians, bringing to 12,000 the number of Palestinians authorized to work in Israel. About 100,000 Palestinians have been prevented from working in Israel for more than a year, fueling anger. Palestinians confined to their homes in Nablus in the West Bank on Monday defied an Israeli curfew for a second day.

Israeli officials also said they would turn over $15 million to the Palestinian finance minister Monday, the first of three installments of tax revenue withheld by Israel during 22 months of fighting.

Hatem Abdel Kader, a leader of the Fatah Tanzim militia in Jerusalem, said he and other Palestinian officials had been prepared to call a unilateral halt to armed attacks on Israeli civilians, including Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Abdel Kader said he visited Iran three months ago to try to persuade Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the moratorium by groups aligned with Fatah. "There were signs that they would agree," Abdel Kader said. Last week, Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said the group had been seriously considering a cease-fire.

The call for a cease-fire was due to be published last week first in The Times of London and later in Israeli and Arab newspapers. It was canceled after the Israeli airstrike.

Abdel Kader said Hamas, angry over Shehadeh's assassination, now opposes a cease-fire. "Despite that, we are continuing with our dialogue and we will continue to put pressure on our brothers in Hamas and Islamic Jihad," he said.

Mark Perry, a Washington political activist with connections to the Palestinian leadership, said militia leaders have moral and political reasons for a cease-fire.

"On the moral side, they were beginning to understand that they were raising a generation of children whose lives would be lost in hatred. On the political side, they saw the continuing political disintegration of their society," Perry said. "Both of these taken together were intolerable."

Wednesday 24 July 2002

Israelis fear retaliation for strike

July 24, 2002

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

JERUSALEM — People bustled down the streets of Jerusalem in the summer sunshine Wednesday. But those familiar with the city at this time of year said that compared with a few years ago, the place looked like a ghost town.

"Everyone is scared, just waiting for the next attack," jeweler Moshe Beigel said. "After the attack in Gaza, I might as well lock up and go home. No one will be coming into town."

Israelis prepared for the worst on Wednesday as Palestinian militants vowed no Israeli was safe after an attack in Gaza City early Tuesday that killed 13 civilians, a top militant and his bodyguard. Nine of the dead were children.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv told Americans in Israel that it is taking seriously threats from the radical Hamas group to avenge the Israeli airstrike. A missile killed Salah Shehadeh, commander of the military wing of Hamas. Israeli officials said that Shehadeh was responsible for terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of people.

Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said Wednesday that there would be "100 new Salah Shehadehs" and "new operations which will bring about the death of hundreds" of Israelis. Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, the terrorist cell founded by Shehadeh, called its followers to turn Israel into a "sea of blood."

Even before Palestinian militants threatened to avenge those killed in the airstrike, 22 months of Israeli-Palestinian conflict had destroyed Jerusalem's restaurant and tourist industry. Half the city's hotels have closed their doors. Most of those that are still open are operating half-empty.

The Jerusalem municipality is running television and radio advertisements urging Israelis to visit Jerusalem and its famous holy shrines. Though people are steering clear of public places, it's still nearly impossible to find a parking space here; many locals use cars instead of buses for fear they will be targeted in a bomb attack.

Beneath Beigel's shop on Hillel Street, seats at the usually packed Aroma Cafe tables were empty. "We still come, but we don't sit around like we used to," said Yehudit Wilson, a bank clerk. "They have a security guard here now, but he won't be able to stop a suicide bomber. Most of the time, we just stay home." Her friend Sara Ben-David said Hamas' new threats are "very scary. They sound as though they mean it, and with all those dead children being shown again and again on TV, I think most Palestinians also want revenge."

Even away from the center of town, people in Jerusalem are jumpy. The northern neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol is near the French Hill junction where a suicide attack on June 19 — the last in the city — claimed the lives of six Israelis. "We are very afraid," said Sami Azulay, a cafe waitress. "We heard that the terrorists want to take revenge. We are keeping our eyes open."

Shoshi Hatouka, who sells jeans and other clothes at a nearby boutique, said things were going from bad to worse. "In a month, I'll have to close down," she said. "Every time we think there's going to be peace, the situation only gets worse. It's hopeless. We are afraid to walk in the street. We are afraid to go shopping. We have become prisoners."