Arafat Remarks on Bus Attack Draw U.S. Praise, Skepticism from Israel

The State Department praised Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat on Thursday for having expressed regret over the July 6 attack on a passenger bus in Israel, in which 14 people died.

The State Department’s remarks were in response to a Hearst News Service report Thursday that was published in The Washington Post.

The report, from Tunis, quoted Arafat as saying of the bus incident, “It is painful for me to witness the loss of all these civilian lives.”

Arafat said in an interview with the Hearst reporter that he would tell the families of the victims: “We are fed up, both of us, by the increasing number of massacres and, in particular, by this tragedy, We have to stop this bloodshed.”

Though the interview was not widely reported, and was played down in The Washington Post, State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher noted and welcomed Arafat’s remarks during his regular noon briefing.

“We have seen the reports that Yasir Arafat expressed regret and sadness over the loss of life in the bus incident,” Boucher said.

“He also noted the need for all to stop bloodshed. These remarks are welcome,” Boucher said.

The PLO had been criticized for its response to the Israeli bus attack, which left 27 people injured, in addition to the 14 who died.

ABU SHARIF REMARKS PROTESTED

Speaking the day of the crash on Radio Monte Carlo, PLO spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif called the action “a human and natural reaction” to the Israeli occupation, and said that “it is not terrorism.”

At the Israeli Consulate in New York, spokesman Barukh Binah said that Arafat’s recent comments were made to counteract the negative publicity stemming from Sharif’s remarks.

“I believe the more accurate reaction, the gut reaction and the true feelings of the PLO were made in the remarks of Bassam Abu Sharif,” Binah said.

There had been strong reactions by Israelis and American Jews to Abu Sharif’s remarks.

On Tuesday, the acting Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Johanan Bein, circulated a letter to U.N. member nations saying that Abu Sharif’s remarks, as well as other PLO statements and actions, “provide clear evidence that the PLO never had any intention of renouncing terrorism and violence.”

Also on Tuesday, members of the American peace group that met with Arafat in Stockholm last December wrote to Abu Sharif, calling on the PLO leadership to condemn the bus attack.

In their letter, 10 members of the American executive committee of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East stated that Palestinians committed to the peace process “must and should condemn all attacks against innocent civilians, whatever the motivating factors.”

(JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York contributed to this report.)

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