Arafat seeks calm before Israeli vote

Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 10:09 p.m.
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Yasser Arafat called for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians in the two weeks before Israeli elections, but an Israeli official on Saturday rejected the gesture as inadequate.
Early Sunday, Israeli tanks and troops moved into the Gaza city of Khan Younis and an adjacent refugee camp, with clashes between Israeli forces and gunmen, Palestinians said. Seven people were wounded, hospital officials said. The Israeli military would say only that an operation was underway there.
Palestinian security chief Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek Majaidie said it was one of the largest and "most dangerous" Israeli operations in recent months.
On Saturday, a Palestinian was killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and two Palestinian teenagers were caught infiltrating a Gaza Strip settlement.
A statement released by Arafat's Cabinet late Friday was a rare reference to Israel's Jan. 28 elections. It called on Palestinians "to show their restraint and not to allow themselves to be dragged along by the Israeli elections and (Israeli) provocation." It added, "The attacks on civilians cause great harm to our cause, in public opinion, for Israeli peace supporters, and at the international level."
As in the past, the statement did not define "civilians." Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and others often have condemned suicide bomb attacks inside Israel, but they rarely speak out against attacks against Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians consider the settlers trespassers on land they claim for a state.
Israeli official Dore Gold rejected the statement. "What Israel needs is a cease-fire and a cessation of violence - full stop," he said. "A halt to violence cannot be limited geographically or within a certain period of time."
In past years, upsurges of Palestinian violence have benefited hard-line Israeli parties, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud. Sharon, once favored to win re-election easily, has seen his party's lead evaporate in the wake of scandals over alleged election corruption.
Also Saturday, Israeli soldiers opened fire at Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs at their armored vehicles in the Askar refugee camp next to the West Bank city of Nablus. Basman Shanir, 20, was killed and nine other people were wounded, witnesses said.
The army said Shanir threw a firebomb at troops. Soldiers have permission to fire at Palestinians throwing firebombs, considered lethal weapons by the Israeli military.
In Gaza, two knife-wielding Palestinian teenagers were captured after they infiltrated a Jewish settlement, military officials said.
Military officials said two Palestinians, ages 12 and 14, armed with knives, tried to enter a house belonging to the rabbi of the Jewish settlement of Netzarim. The two ran away when the rabbi opened fire at them but were captured by security forces after a short chase, the officials said. One of the Palestinians was moderately wounded. No Israelis were reported injured.
Also in Gaza, a 17-year-old Palestinian died from injuries sustained a day earlier in an explosion at his home, hospital officials said. Zeid Baisi was a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, and sources in the camp said he was putting together explosives when he was injured.
A double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Sunday that killed 22 people led the Israeli government to ban a Palestinian delegation from attending a conference in London next week of foreign diplomats to focus on Palestinian reforms. Instead, the Palestinians will have to communicate from home.
Representatives of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations will meet with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on Tuesday.
Straw said Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, Minister of Planning and International Co-operation Nabil Shaath and Finance Minister Salam Fayad would take part in the talks via telephone.
Abed Rabbo told reporters in Ramallah that two sessions would be held, one on Tuesday and another after the Israeli elections on Jan. 28. He said the Palestinians were determined to overcome Israel's obstructions.
Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat criticized the Israeli ban.
"We appreciate British efforts, but it's obvious that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has managed to sabotage the conference. Prime Minister Blair should speak openly that Sharon is sabotaging efforts to revive peace and hope and continue with reforms," Erekat said.
Blair wrote to Sharon earlier this week to ask that Israel lift a ban on a Palestinian delegation attending the talks.
Israeli officials have been skeptical about the conference, suggesting the Palestinian officials should begin implementing reforms at home rather than travel abroad to discuss them.
Israel controls Palestinian travel and decides who may leave the country. So far, Israel has rebuffed European pressure to overturn the Cabinet's decision, and the United States has avoided pressuring Israel on the issue publicly.

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