Two Israeli motorists killed in the West Bank
JERUSALEM (AP) – Two Israeli motorists were killed by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank Monday, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said an official cooling-off period that is supposed to precede peace talks would not start until such attacks end.
Despite the shootings and other violence, Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs met Monday in an effort to preserve a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire plan, with both sides accusing each other of violations. Palestinian security commander Jibril Rajoub said another meeting was set for Wednesday.
Israeli officials complained about dozens of Palestinian attacks since the cease-fire went into effect on Wednesday. In Amman, Jordan, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israel has violated the deal, continuing to demolish houses, attack Palestinian areas and maintain blockades in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The cease-fire plan negotiated last week by CIA director George Tenet calls for an immediate end to violence. Israeli forces are to pull back from the edges of Palestinian areas and end travel bans. Israel has taken some steps, but the Palestinians say most roadblocks and restrictions are still in effect.
Outgoing U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk said some progress has been made in implementing the cease-fire, but not enough. ”We need to see those clashes reduced more, but the process is working, and I hope we will see more quiet in the coming days,” he said during a farewell meeting with Israeli President Moshe Katsav.
In Gaza Monday, Israeli soldiers withdrew from two Palestinian buildings they seized at the sensitive Netzarim junction eight months ago, Palestinian security officials said.
A solidarity march for the settlers was under way in the West Bank when word arrived of the first of the two, separate shootings.
Police said Danny Yehuda, 35, was on his way home to the settlement of Chomesh when a Palestinian taxi passed in the opposite direction, did a U-turn, pursued the car and opened fire.
The shots killed Yehuda and the car stopped. The taxi then pulled up alongside the vehicle, the assailants got out and looked into the car. A 16-year-old passenger, who was wounded, feigned death and the attackers left, said Rafi Peled, the Israeli police commander in the West Bank.
A faction of Arafat’s Fatah faction claimed responsibility for the shooting.
After nightfall, Palestinians fired at a car near the settlement of Einav, near the line between the West Bank and Israel, killing an Israeli motorist, the military said.
In the Gaza Strip, a 16-year-old Palestinian wounded in a Sunday clash died, doctors in a Khan Younis hospital said.
Police arrested six settlers suspected of planning arson attacks in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
Despite the violence, security officials on both sides maintained contact under terms of Wednesday’s truce, which calls for a six-week cooling-off period after the actual cease-fire. That is to be followed by the resumption of peace talks.
The truce gives the two sides a week to carry out their basic commitments before the cooling-off period goes into effect.
But Sharon said Monday, ”As long as there is no total cease-fire, the counting of the cooling-off period will not begin.”
Both sides have accepted the recommendations of the international commission whose ideas led to the cease-fire plan. The commission’s plan required Israel to freeze Jewish settlement construction once the cease-fire is in place.
Though he was critical of the Palestinians, Sharon fended off calls from his own nationalist camp to hit back militarily for the attacks.
”I am not willing to accept calls … saying I have to take this nation to war,” Sharon said, aiming his remarks settlers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who have been on the front lines of the fighting and have held signs reading ”War now” at demonstrations.
Since fighting erupted Sept. 28, 494 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 113 on the Israeli side.
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