JERUSALEM (Oct. 29)
A wave of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that shattered efforts to make peace in the Middle East has entered its second month with a fury that shows no signs of abating.
As the clashes continued Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Ariel Sharon failed again to forge a unity government.
The two met at Barak’s home one day before the Knesset was scheduled to resume its winter session.
With Barak having only a minority of legislators behind him, the Knesset is expected to vote soon on a motion of no confidence if the premier is unable to create a unity government before then.
Barak had previously expressed optimism that he was close to forming a government with Sharon to grapple with the Palestinian unrest.
But on Sunday the two were unable to agree on Sharon’s demand that Barak change his stance on the peace process.
Sharon, who opposes the reported concessions Barak was willing to make to the Palestinians at the Camp David summit in July, has said he will only join the government with guarantees that no political action will be taken without his prior consent.
Barak has refused to grant Sharon veto power over political or security decisions.
A union with Sharon would extend Barak’s political life.
His government lost its parliamentary majority over the summer when three parties walked out over the Camp David summit.
For the time being, though, Barak is not in immediate danger of having his government toppled in a no-confidence vote.
The fervently Orthodox Shas Party, a former coalition partner, has promised him a “safety net” as long as the emergency situation with the Palestinians continues.
The most serious clashes Sunday were near the Karni Crossing in the Gaza Strip.
At least one Palestinian was shot dead when Israel used tanks to clear a road blocked by Palestinians protesting the presence of Israeli armor at the crossing into Israel.
The fighting in Gaza occurred as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat proclaimed that the “blessed” intifada, or Palestinian uprising, would continue until a “Palestinian child plants a Palestinian flag” on Jerusalem.
The Israel Defense Force said that its soldiers shot in the air to disperse the rioters, and that they used only pinpoint fire against Palestinian gunmen or those throwing firebombs.
An IDF commander in Gaza accused the Palestinian police of ignoring his calls to calm the protesters and allowing the situation to deteriorate. He said Palestinian children were sent forward as cover for gunmen.
Near the West Bank town of Nablus, two more Palestinians were reported killed, and an Israeli soldier was wounded by Palestinian fire.
Exchanges of gunfire between Palestinians and Israeli troops were reported elsewhere in the territories Sunday.
Near the settlement of Morag, in the Gaza Strip, a bomb was detonated next to a bus carrying Israeli civilians. No one was hurt.
On Saturday, Israel’s army pulled its tanks off a hilltop on the edge of Jerusalem.
But army officials said Sunday that the “army will know how to retaliate” if Palestinians resume firing from the Arab town of Beit Jalla on Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
The last Palestinian attack came last Friday night.
In addition to dealing with the ongoing clashes in the territories, Israeli security forces are on heightened alert for attempts by Islamic militants to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in the territories and inside Israel. Commenting on media reports that two Hamas terrorist cells have already infiltrated Israel, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said the public must be extremely vigilant.
Despite the ongoing disturbances, Barak said Sunday that Israel remains committed to the understandings brokered by President Clinton at a recent summit in Sharm el-Sheik.
Barak said Israel would continue to strive toward peace if the violence subsides, even if he forms a government with Sharon.