JERUSALEM (Mar. 23)
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process all but lay in ruins after a Hamas suicide bombing prompted angry recriminations from both sides.
In the wake of last Friday’s bombing at a cafe in central Tel Aviv — an attack that killed three Israelis and left dozens more wounded — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed the blame squarely on Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, whom the premier accused of giving the go-ahead for terrorist operations.
Palestinian officials in turn blamed their Israeli counterparts for the attack, saying that the start of construction last week of a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in eastern Jerusalem had created a feeling of desperation among the Palestinian people.
Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Karia said Sunday that the “terror of the bulldozers” at Har Homa had caused the terror of last Friday.
In a telephone conversation with Arafat after the attack, Netanyahu demanded that he take concrete steps against terror.
“You must prove that you are able to fight terror and that you want to,” Netanyahu was quoted as telling Arafat on Saturday night. “If not, the entire peace process is in danger.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu convened the Inner Security Cabinet to discuss the Jewish state’s next moves in the wake of the bombing. Senior Israeli officials said some of the negotiations with the Palestinians should be suspended, but the premier later told CNN that Israel would not end the talks entirely.
After the meeting, the Cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, said Israel was demanding that the Palestinian Authority “fulfill its commitments to fight terrorism as an essential step to advance the political process.”
“These include the arrest and trial of suspects, actions to stop incitement and security cooperation with Israel,” Naveh added, referring to actions to which Arafat had agreed in the Hebron agreement signed in January.
In the wake of Friday’s attack, Israeli and Palestinian security forces agreed to work more closely in security matters.
During the weekend, Palestinian security forces arrested about 30 Hamas activists in the self-rule areas. Israeli forces carried out searches in the territories in areas under its authority.
Two of the victims of last Friday’s attack were identified as Anat Rosen- Winter, 31, a lawyer, and Yael Gilad, 32, a social worker, both of Tel Aviv. The third victim, Michal Medan-Avrahami, a 31-year-old doctor who lived in Herzliya, was 16 weeks pregnant.
The three were buried Sunday.
The attack was the first Hamas suicide bombing against Israel since March 4, 1996, when a suicide bomb was detonated in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center, killing 13 and wounding at least 130.
Both attacks took place on the eve of Purim. In each case, the victims included young children dressed in costumes for the festive holiday.
Amid warnings of possible further attacks, Israel closed off the territories, and security forces went on heightened alert.
Senior security officials, echoing Netanyahu’s charges, said it was up to Arafat to prevent more terrorism.
“We believe that as long as Arafat does not make it clear to the terrorist groups that they do not have a green light, we can expect more attacks,” said the head of army intelligence, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon.
Last week, Israeli security officials said they had information of possible terrorist violence because of increasing tensions with the Palestinians over Israel’s decision to start building at Har Homa.
The Har Homa issue spilled over into violence this weekend in the West Bank town of Hebron, where Israeli soldiers clashed with rioting Palestinians, who threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
The soldiers responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, but they also used live ammunition when they felt that their lives were in danger.
Five Israeli soldiers were injured by stone-throwers and dozens of Palestinians were wounded.
Ya’alon charged that Jibril Rajoub, who is in charge of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, had staged the Hebron rioting.
In another incident Sunday, Israeli soldiers opened fire on a car and wounded two Palestinians at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
The soldiers opened fire after a third Palestinian ignored orders to stop the car and tried to flee.
The third man was later found to be carrying an Israeli identity card, as well as documents issued to Palestinian residents of the territories.
Last Friday’s attack occurred about 1:45 p.m., when the Cafe Apropos at Ben Gurion and Adam HaCohen streets in Tel Aviv was crowded.
Eyewitnesses said they noticed a suspicious-looking man carrying a duffel bag walking among the tables.
A few minutes later, the explosion took place, sending shrapnel and glass flying.
The bomber was later identified as Mahmoud Abed Al-Kader Ghonimeit, 28, a resident of the Tsurif village in the Hebron area.
Ghonimeit, who was married and a father of four, had worked in two restaurants in Rishon leZion, south of Tel Aviv, and had been detained three weeks ago for being in Israel illegally.
He was released after questioning.
According to the investigation, Ghonimeit returned to Israel the night before the attack and slept at one of the restaurants before traveling to Tel Aviv, where he carried out the attack.
Israeli forces sealed Ghonimeit’s home shortly after the attack and ordered its demolition. The family appealed to the Supreme Court.
Israel linked the bombing with the Palestinian Authority’s release from jail 10 days earlier of a Hamas leader, Ibrahim Makadmeh, and demanded his immediate re-arrest.
Makadmeh was arrested a year ago after a wave of suicide bombings, on suspicion of heading the fundamentalist group’s military arm.
On the day of the attack, he addressed a Hamas rally in Gaza that was called to protest the Har Homa project.
The Palestinian Authority attorney general, Khaled al-Kidra, denied that Makadmeh had been rearrested after the bombing.
Kidra said Makadmeh was still at large, but that Palestinian officials had issued a warrant for his rearrest.