Palestine: Both sides say peace mission doomed

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2002 10:21:36 -0000

Palestinian militants set off a bomb next to an Israeli tank in a convoy
travelling through the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing three Israelis just
hours before the start of a peace mission by the United States special
envoy Anthony Zinni. 

A statement sent to the Reuters news agency said the attack was a joint
operation by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group linked to
President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, and the Salahudin Brigade,
which unites militants mainly from Fatah and the Islamic movement Hamas.

With Israelis and Palestinians predicting Mr Zinni's latest mission is
doomed, the attack on the convoy of soldiers and Jewish settlers will
complicate his attempts to secure a ceasefire. The prospects for
negotiations have already been undermined by a sweeping Israeli military
offensive inside Palestinian territory. 

Dore Gold, an adviser to Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said he
doubted the Palestinians wanted to end the violence. 

"So we go into this with a willingness to try, with a willingness to go
the extra mile, but with a large degree of scepticism about Arafat's
intentions," he said. 

A Palestinian political analyst, Ghassan Khatib, also doubted that Mr
Zinni, a retired general, could negotiate a lasting truce. 

He said the only way to end the bloodshed was to deal with the core
issue of the conflict - Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip
and east Jerusalem, which it seized during the 1967 Middle East war. 

Mr Zinni is expected to put the idea of US monitors on the table, a move
Mr Khatib described as positive. Israel has opposed international
observers in the past, but Mr Gold said a small number of US monitors
might be acceptable. 

"Should the Central Intelligence Agency become active in monitoring the
ceasefire that I am sure General Zinni will try and create, having some
people on the ground looking at what is going on and giving an objective
report may not be a bad idea," he said. 

Ahead of Mr Zinni's visit, Israeli tanks pushed into two towns in the
West Bank, despite strong criticism from the US, the United Nations and
the European Union that the military campaign was harming the chances
for peace talks. 

President George Bush said: "Frankly it's not helpful what the Israelis
have done, in order to create the conditions for peace. I understand
someone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror, but the recent
actions aren't helpful." 

Also in Washington, White House and congressional sources said the Bush
Administration was blocking a request from Israel for hundreds of
millions of dollars in new aid. 

But despite such pressure and protests from his own Defence Minister,
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Mr Sharon insisted the Israeli Army's operations
would continue, even during Mr Zinni's visit. 

The Israeli Army's siege of Ramallah continued yesterday. Its soldiers
shot dead three Palestinian gunmen during intense street fighting. 

On Wednesday several dozen Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles had been
seen pulling out from Ramallah's city centre and leaving through its
southern entrance, but Israeli military sources discouraged talk of a
withdrawal and said the movement might be tactical. 

Israeli troops also held firm to positions in the West Bank towns of
Qalqilya and Bethlehem. 

In Bethlehem, Palestinian militiamen shot dead two suspected informers
for Israel, and tried to hang the body of one of them from a building on
Manger Square. 

Source:  Sydney Morning Herald

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