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Arafat calls for halt to attacks on Israelis

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Associated Press WriterRAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Yasser Arafat appealed to Palestinian militias Thursday to halt attacks on Israeli civilians, after two suicide bombings over two days killed 26 Israelis and prompted Israel to send troops back into five West Bank towns.

In Israel, there were growing divisions over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to gradually seize Palestinian areas and occupy them as long as terror attacks continue. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, leader of the moderate Labor Party, said he strongly opposes long-term reoccupation of Palestinian areas.

The back-to-back bombings in Jerusalem prompted President Bush to put his prescription for Palestinian statehood on hold, but he remained confident that Mideast peace could be achieved. Bush has repeatedly demanded that Arafat do more to stop terror attacks, as a step toward resuming peace efforts.

Arafat condemned attacks on Israeli civilians in a statement Thursday and said shootings and bombings "must be completely halted." Otherwise, he warned, the result might be "full Israeli occupation of our lands."

Arafat said later that he'd called for the halt in attacks because, "we are against killing any civilians, whether Palestinians or Israelis." But he said Israel, through its military actions, was "preventing all our efforts" to end the violence.

Arafat did not say how he would rein in the militias. Israel has accused him of doing nothing to stop attacks and even encouraging them.

The Islamic militant group Hamas said it would not stop the bombings.

"If we have an effective weapon in our hands and the whole world is trying to take it off us, this kind of reaction shows it to be the most effective way," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack Tuesday on a Jerusalem bus that killed 19 Israelis.

A bombing Wednesday at a Jerusalem bus stop killed seven Israelis, including a 59-year-old grandmother and her 5-year-old granddaughter. Arabic television channels reported conflicting responsibility claims, and it wasn't clear who was behind the blast.

The blast wrecked the bus stop and left the wide street littered with personal belongings and body parts.

Yaacov Ben Yehuda, 36, a teacher who moved to Israel from San Diego, Calif. five years ago, was hitchhiking home to Ofra, a West Bank Jewish settlement about 20 miles from the intersection. He was looking for a car to stop for him and didn't see the bomber.

"When I heard the boom, I turned toward the sound," he said. "Then I realized it was a bombing. There is blood on my feet and the back of my shirts. My pants are covered with other people's blood. It is too gross to think about."

In response, Israeli forces moved into Bethlehem and the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp, declaring a curfew and taking over controlling positions in the town, the military said. Also, troops moved into Beitunia, a suburb of Ramallah, and searched for suspects. The statement said soldiers would remain in the two locations "until the mission's goals are accomplished."

Israeli troops were in control of two other towns, Jenin and Qalqiliya, setting up command posts and enforcing curfews, an example of the new Israeli policy. Dozens of tanks also rolled into Tulkarem, just inside the West Bank, and an adjacent refugee camp.

Palestinian hospital and security officials said a pregnant Palestinian woman, Sahar Hindi, 27, died after being shot in the chest during an exchange of gunfire in Qalqiliya. The Israeli army said the exchange was continuing and had no immediate information about a woman dying.

In the Jenin camp, troops rounded up about 2,500 boys and men between the ages of 15 and 50 on Wednesday and took them in buses to a nearby army camp for questioning. About 1,000 men were released overnight, said Mohammed Ballas, a Palestinian journalist who was among those rounded up.

Israeli helicopters and warplanes also pounded Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip, wounding 13 Palestinians.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the delay in Bush's widely anticipated policy statement "might give Sharon the green light to continue with his destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the infrastructure of the Palestinian community."

Sharon never explained publicly how far Israel would go in the planned reoccupation of Palestinian areas -- whether troops would seize entire towns or set up new positions on the outskirts of population centers.

Ben-Eliezer said he was "completely against all permanent seizure of territories -- I didn't agree in any forum to punitive occupation."

"When you speak of occupation, the meaning is that you start dealing with everything from health to sewage. That's not the intention. The intention is a presence on the ground in light of the present reality ... for as much time is necessary," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio.

Israeli military commentators said Sharon's decision was fraught with problems, since Israel would have to call up reserves -- a costly move at a time when Israel's economy is on the brink of a recession -- and the military would have to set up a new bureaucracy to provide services for Palestinian civilians.

During Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, before the gradual troop pullback from Palestinian towns in the mid-1990s, Israel's military controlled all aspects of Palestinian life, from issuing birth certificates to running schools.

In the new situation, "it will be up to Israel to provide food and medical services, as well as garbage collection, and should a water pipe burst, Israel will have to fix it," wrote commentator Zeev Schiff in the Haaretz daily.

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