JERUSALEM (Jul. 31)
The Israeli government has suspended peace talks with the Palestinians and authorized security forces to arrest suspected terrorists in the self-rule areas if the Palestinian Authority does not take action to fight terrorism.
The decisions were taken at an Inner Cabinet meeting hours after two suicide bombers detonated explosions Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem’s crowded Mahane Yehuda market. At least 15 people died, including the bombers, and more than 170 others were wounded.
Pathologists have identified all but one of the victims.
The names of 10 of the victims were released: Lev Deseitnik, 60, of Jerusalem; Simha Fremd, 92, of Jerusalem; Regina Gibber, 76, of Jerusalem; Shalom Golan, 52, of Jerusalem; Valentina Kovalenko, 67, of Jerusalem; Shmuel Sami Malka, 44, of Mevasseret Zion; David Nasko, 44, of Mevasseret Zion; Muhi Adin Othman, 33, of Abu Ghosh; Leah Stern, 50, of Jerusalem; and Rahel Terniataro, 80, of Jerusalem.
While a statement issued after the Cabinet meeting did not explicitly announce a halt in negotiations, it said that Israel was conditioning progress in any future talks on Palestinian action against terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced — in a conclusion reached before the bombings — that the United States could no longer verify that the Palestinians were in compliance with the accords it signed with Israel.
Israeli security forces arrested 28 suspected Palestinian extremist activists in the West Bank on Thursday. The Palestinian Authority was also said to have rounded up about 10 suspected Hamas members in Bethlehem.
But Jibril Rajoub, who is in charge of all Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, said that there would be no mass crackdown by his forces as had been carried out after previous terror attacks.
A senior Israeli security source told reporters Thursday that the Cabinet had authorized Israeli security forces to arrest suspected Islamic extremists operating out of mosques and charitable institutions operating in areas under overall Israeli security control.
The source also disclosed information underscoring Israel’s charge that the Palestinian Authority was behind the violence.
The source said that Israel had solid proof linking Palestinian Police Chief Brig. Gen. Ghazi al-Jabali to planned terrorist attacks against Israelis and that he had personally directed three Palestinian policemen from Nablus who were arrested several weeks ago when they were allegedly on their way to carry out an attack.
The source also said that the head of the Hamas military wing and planner of suicide bus bombings in Jerusalem last year, Mohammad Deif, had at various times received shelter from the Palestinian Authority.
Jabali, in a news conference in the Gaza Strip, dismissed the Israeli charges as “a joke.”
He added that if Israeli security forces entered Gaza to arrest him, they would never come out.
He said Israel did not have the right to issue a warrant for his arrest — and doing so violated the signed agreements.
An aide to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat called the decisions taken by the Israeli Cabinet “a declaration of war against the [Palestinian] Authority.”
“Instead of fighting terror, they decided to fight the Palestinian Authority,” said Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Irdeineh.
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces continued their investigation into the identities of the two suicide bombers.
Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz said pathologists were working from fingerprints and blood samples to identify the men, but both he and Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani said that no significant progress had been made in identifying the them.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, the pressure on Arafat from Israel was heightened by a vote in the Palestinian legislative council giving him one month to dissolve his Cabinet and appoint a new one.
The decision came in the wake of an internal probe that pointed to financial mismanagement and corruption in all of the Palestinian Authority’s 18 Cabinet offices.
In Jerusalem, funerals for the victims were held throughout the day.
The Mahane Yehuda market reopened after bulldozers and crews worked overnight to clean up the rubble from the previous day’s attack.
At one end of the alleyway where the bombing took place, a scooter for the elderly — which apparently had been used by one of the victims — turned into an impromptu memorial, as passersby lit memorial candles around it.
Security was heightened in the market, but as one stall-owner said, it was impossible to insure security in the busy, crowded market of twisting alleys and entrances.
“We can only stay open. We can’t ensure 100 percent safety. After all, the [the terrorists] look just like us,” one storekeeper told Israel Radio.