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Palestinian leaders call for halt to terror attacks
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Facing mounting pressure from Israel and the United States, the Palestinian Authority on Saturday again called for an end to all bombing and shooting attacks against Israelis.
However, with the violence escalating in recent days, it was not clear whether militant Palestinian groups would heed the message. Several recent shooting attacks have been carried out by gunmen linked to the Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinian Cabinet issued a statement early Saturday calling on all Palestinian groups to "cease fire completely and stop all military operations against Israelis. These operations do not serve our national cause at all."
Exchange of fire
But the bloodshed persisted Saturday. Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian who was passing through an army checkpoint in a village in the West Bank, Palestinians said. In the Gaza Strip, an exchange of fire erupted after Palestinians fired a mortar shell and grenades at army posts, Israeli army officials said.
Responding to harsh criticism on Friday by U.S. administration officials, Arafat made an appeal Saturday to the American people, asking them to compare the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation to their own against British forces in the Revolutionary War.
"Did you ever accept the British occupation of the United States?" Arafat asked in a program on the Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera. "Didn't George Washington fight, along with his people, until they freed the United States?"
Arafat also called on the administration to return envoy Anthony Zinni to the region to further efforts to work out a cease-fire.
The United States has taken an increasingly tough line with the Palestinians, and President Bush said Friday he was "very disappointed" with the Palestinian leader over a shipment of weapons that was apparently headed for the Palestinians. Israeli forces intercepted the shipment last month in the Red Sea.
"Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror, that's enhancing terror," Bush said. Arafat has denied any involvement in the affair.
Bush was considering sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, including the possibility of cutting diplomatic ties.
2,000 people rally
On Saturday, about 2,000 Palestinians rallied outside Arafat's compound to show support for the Palestinian leader, who has been confined to the West Bank town of Ramallah by the Israelis.
At one point, some demonstrators were invited inside to speak to Arafat, who condemned Israel's air strikes on Friday against Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel said the raids were in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Friday that injured 24 people, and for rocket attacks in the Gaza Strip.
Echoing comments he made a few days earlier, Arafat said he was willing to give his life for his goal of a Palestinian state, with a capital in east Jerusalem. "Please God, give me the honor of being one of the holy Jerusalem martyrs," Arafat said.
In violence Saturday, a Palestinian passing through an army checkpoint near the West Bank village of Rantis was shot twice in the leg by soldiers, Palestinian officials said. The injured man bled to death when Palestinian ambulances were prevented by soldiers from reaching the scene, Palestinian doctors said.