JERUSALEM, May 22 (JTA) Israel and the Palestinian Authority reacted positively Monday to the release of an international report on the outbreak of Mideast violence, but it remains to be seen whether the sides will follow the report’s recommendations to end the fighting and resume peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the report’s recommendations were acceptable to Israel but he has rejected its most controversial section, which calls for a total freeze on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including natural growth.
On Tuesday, Sharon called for a truce and a cooling-off period, after which the two sides could begin implementing the Mitchell Commission report.
“I propose to our neighbors to work together for an immediate cease- fire and hope the Palestinians will answer the call positively,” Sharon told a news conference Tuesday.
He appeared to make a limited concession to Palestinian demands on settlements.
“We certainly see no need to expropriate lands for the settlements,” Sharon said. “There is enough land. In connection with that subject, I see no problem.”
Shortly after Sharon spoke, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer issued a directive to cease firing on Palestinians, adding that Israeli troops should only open fire “when lives are endangered.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush was “encouraged” by Sharon’s comments and would welcome similar remarks by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Palestinian official Ahmed Abdel Rahman, an aide to Arafat, later told The Associated Press that the Palestinians “reject everything Sharon said about a cease-fire.”
Palestinian officials have said Israel must announce a permanent construction freeze before a truce can begin.
Sharon’s government has pledged not to establish new settlements, but says it must accommodate natural population growth in existing ones.
At a news conference Monday in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called for an immediate and unconditional end to violence in the region. Though he urged the Israelis to freeze construction in the settlements, he made it clear that the request is not a condition for a cease-fire.
Israel objects to any linkage between the two issues.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who was in Moscow on Monday for high-level talks, characterized Powell’s remarks as positive and said the United States would find Israel receptive to the Bush administration’s approach.
Meanwhile, Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a member of the right-wing camp in Sharon’s government, warned that a settlement freeze would lead to the deterioration of Sharon’s coalition.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority said it accepts the report’s recommendations and called for an international summit to address their implementation.
A statement issued in Gaza said the Palestinian Authority particularly welcomes the recommendation to stop settlement activity and what it characterized as violence against Palestinians.
The report urges both sides to take confidence-building measures toward resuming negotiations. It also criticized what it considers the use of excessive force by the Israel Defense Force in responding to Palestinian unrest.
The report calls on the Palestinian Authority to stop attacks on Israeli targets and to do more to combat terrorism.
At a news conference announcing the report, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, head of the international commission, noted that the panel has no authority to compel the sides to implement the recommendations.
In Israel and the territories, meanwhile, violence continued unabated Monday.
In the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, five Israelis were wounded, two seriously, by Palestinian gunfire from the Arab town of Beit Jalla. Reports said three children were also slightly hurt by shattered glass.
Earlier in the day, there were a series of attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, but no injuries were reported. A bomb also was detonated near a school bus carrying children.
In Hebron, IDF troops clashed with Palestinians and shots were fired at the city’s Jewish enclave from the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Sneineh.
In the Gaza Strip, reports said Israeli security forces entered a Palestinian-controlled area to determine the launching site of two mortars that exploded in the fields of the Netzer Hazani settlement.
Earlier, IDF troops found and detonated a bomb on the Netzarim road. Israeli troops killed two Fatah members during an exchange of fire as the Palestinians were trying to plant a bomb.
The IDF also shelled what it said was a mortar-producing factory in the Jabalya refugee camp overnight. The Palestinians said the building was used for civilian purposes.
The IDF said Monday that there was no intent to harm Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, when a security position beneath his home was shelled Sunday night, wounding several guards. The Israeli army said troops were responding to repeated fire on them from the house.
Against the backdrop of the tense security situation, thousands flocked to Jerusalem for the annual Jerusalem Day commemorations, marking Israel’s reunification of the city 34 years ago.
At the central ceremony on Ammunition Hill, the site of fierce fighting between Israeli and Jordanian troops in 1967, Sharon reiterated his support for maintaining a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in a future political agreement with the Palestinians.
“If we persevere and show determination, we will reach a political arrangement in which there will be the peace we all want and are committed to, as well as security,” he said. “It will be peace with Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel, with the Temple Mount, the heart of the Jewish people, in its center, united and undivided forever.”