Another Yom Kippur at War?

JERUSALEM, Oct. 8 (JTA) – For the second Yom Kippur in 27 years, Israel may have to fight a war on two fronts.

But while in 1973 Israel mainly battled the regular armies of Egypt and Syria, this time the potential foes will be the Palestinians and Hezbollah gunmen in Lebanon.

With regard to the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said during a news conference Saturday night that "it now seems that we have no partner for peace."

He gave Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat until after Yom Kippur to prove otherwise, vowing to up the ante if he does not act to end the violence that has rocked Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than a week.

"If we do not see a change in the pattern of violence in the next two days," warned Barak, "we shall regard Arafat as responsible for the end of the peace process, and we shall act accordingly."

Amid the developments that have eroded Israel’s ability to trust the Palestinians as partners in the peace process was a Palestinian attack Saturday on Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, where rioters destroyed the site, which also housed a yeshiva.

The army evacuated its position there Friday night after Palestinian security officials assured that they would protect the site.

Nablus Mayor Ghassan a-Shaka later said Palestinian security forces were unable to control the masses who launched the attack. He promised to reconstruct the site and allow Jewish worshipers to pray there.

The attack was immediately seized upon by those who have questioned Arafat’s assurances that he would serve as the protector of all holy sites in Jerusalem once the Palestinian Authority is given sovereignty there.

On the Lebanese front, the calm that has prevailed along the border since Israel withdrew from the area in May was shattered Saturday, when Palestinian refugees were bused in for a cross-border confrontation and Hezbollah gunmen kidnapped three Israeli soldiers.

The Israel Defense Force failed to stop the kidnappers from advancing north, and efforts to rescue the kidnapped soldiers shifted to the diplomatic front.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday night that he is ready to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Israel holds 15 Lebanese prisoners, among them Shi’ite leaders Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani.

At his news conference, Barak put the responsibility for the release of the kidnapped soldiers on Lebanon and Syria. He warned that unless Lebanon ensured the kidnapped soldiers’ release, Israel would feel free to act against Lebanese targets.

As hopes for the peace process slipped away with each new development, there were nonetheless indications Sunday that the situation on both fronts may ease.

There has been growing international concern that the situation is spinning out of control, and this has been accompanied by diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.

These efforts emerged after the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that called for an end to the past week’s violence and obliquely blamed Israel for using "excessive force” against the Palestinians.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yehuda Lancry, later criticized the resolution as one-sided, saying it failed to take into consideration the full complexity of the past week’s events.

But Lancry said the resolution, which was watered down under U.S. pressure from earlier versions, could have been worse. For his part, President Clinton decided to cancel plans to appear at fund-raising events in order to devote his time to the crisis.

As part of his efforts, Clinton has spoken several times by phone with Barak, Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

While the diplomatic efforts continue, creating hopes that all sides will draw back from the brink, there has been ample reason to be pessimistic about whether these efforts will bear fruit.

Among the developments feeding this pessimism:

• Israeli Jews attacked Arab vehicles and shops within Israel proper in retaliation for the riots launched by Israeli Arabs last week;

• Israeli security sources are expressing growing concerns that Arafat has already given Hamas the green light to carry out terrorist attacks within Israel;

• Israel reinforced its troops along the border with Lebanon, following the kidnapping of the three soldiers;

• Barak issued orders to close off the Palestinian airport in Gaza after a shooting attack at an Israeli bus in Gaza left at least eight Israelis wounded, three of them badly;

• Air force gunships were deployed Saturday night in Hebron to stop repeated shootings at the Jewish Quarter there;

• A Jewish driver was killed on the coastal road between Haifa and Tel Aviv after his car was hit by a stone thrown at him from the Arab village of Jisser a-Zarka;

• In a sign of growing cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, 14 Hamas activists were released from Palestinian jails, as leaders from both sides stressed the need for Palestinian unity.

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