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Israelis question violent cease-fire

JERUSALEM, June 20 (JTA) — Faced with continued casualties, the Israeli public is growing increasingly frustrated with a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect last week.

On Wednesday, an Israeli from the settlement of Homesh was killed in a West Bank shooting attack. The man continued driving to Homesh after being shot, but rescue workers were unable to save him, according to Israel Radio.

He was the third victim of a West Bank ambush since Monday, when Palestinian gunmen killed two other Israeli settlers in separate attacks on West Bank roads.

Danny Yehuda was killed and a teen-age settler was lightly wounded in a drive-by shooting near the West Bank city of Nablus. Yehuda, 37, was married and the father of three young children.

Doron Zisserman was killed later Monday as he was driving in a convoy of cars.

Eyewitnesses said a gunman took up a position on a hilltop overlooking the gate to the settlement of Einav and fired on cars entering the settlement. Zisserman, a 38-year-old father of four, was shot in the head and neck. Efforts to resuscitate him failed.

The attack took place as the funeral for Yehuda was being held.

Officials from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party claimed responsibility for both of Monday’s attacks. The officials said members of the group’s militia would continue attacking Israelis, arguing that the U.S.-brokered deal applies only to those areas under sole Palestinian control — not to Israeli settlements and surrounding areas.

On Wednesday, shortly before that day’s deadly ambush, the head of Palestinian militias in the West Bank vowed to continue attacks on Israeli settlers.

“We will continue to besiege the settlers until all of them leave the territories,” Marwan Barghouti said.

The Palestinian public likewise saw its death toll increase after the cease-fire, which began June 13.

Palestinian officials said Israeli soldiers were responsible for the shooting death Sunday night of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy at the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Israel said the soldiers shot at Palestinians trying to scale a fence into a Jewish settlement.

On Tuesday, a funeral was held for a 16-year-old Palestinian who died of wounds he received in clashes with Israeli troops over the weekend.

And the next day, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the border between Israel and the West Bank. The soldiers opened fire when the man resisted arrest, Army Radio reported.

After a three-hour meeting of the Security Cabinet on Wednesday, Israeli officials said they would continue implementing a U.S.-mediated cease-fire despite what they called the Palestinian Authority’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the truce.

But the officials also said Wednesday they would not fully lift a blockade of Palestinian towns and villages until all attacks on Israelis stopped.

In a statement issued after the meeting — but before that day’s ambush occurred — the Security Cabinet added that while there would be no retaliation for now for ongoing Palestinian terrorism, Israel “reserves the right of self-defense to prevent attacks aimed at its citizens and soldiers.”

Arafat called Wednesday’s announcement by Israel that it would adhere to the cease-fire an “attempt to deceive international public opinion.”

A day earlier, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his top security officials to discuss the continuing Palestinian attacks.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Israeli officials warned that they will reconsider their commitment to a U.S.-brokered cease-fire if the Palestinian Authority does not clamp down on violence.

“The cease-fire is not working,” said Ra’anan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon. Israel “can’t go on like this. People are getting killed.”

Arafat said Tuesday his people are not to blame for the violence that has threatened the cease-fire.

“We do not commit acts of violence,” Arafat said during a visit to Madrid. “The violence today is committed by the settlers.”

In recent days, there have been numerous Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, including mortar attacks on Gaza settlements and numerous shooting incidents in the West Bank.

On Monday, a terrorist bombing was averted in Haifa when two police volunteers discovered three bombs hidden in a motorcycle parked outside an all-night drugstore. A fourth bomb was later found nearby.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that the cease-fire was in danger of total collapse if Arafat does not clamp down on Palestinian terror.

Because of the continued violence, a brief split emerged within the Cabinet over a proposed summit meeting with Arafat.

Israeli media reported that a heated argument erupted among Israel’s ministers Sunday over Sharon’s refusal to let Peres meet with Arafat. At the meeting, Sharon reiterated his stance that Israel will not negotiate while violence continues.

According to Peres, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on a diplomatic shuttle mission to the region, proposed the meeting to shore up the fragile cease-fire.

Israel Radio quoted Peres as saying at the Cabinet session that he would not accept “dictates” from Sharon. But the foreign minister sounded a more moderate tone at a news conference later in the day.

The government issued a statement Monday saying that Sharon and Peres are working in harmony and that the nation’s media — which hurried to report the end of the unity government’s honeymoon period — had made too much of a minor disagreement.

Sharon is not the only international leader who believes the time is not ripe for a meeting with Arafat.

In a recent meeting with U.S. Jewish leaders at the White House, President Bush reportedly said he would not meet with the Palestinian leader until there is a complete end to Palestinian violence.

A group of American Jewish leaders, speaking at a news conference Sunday in Jerusalem, described Bush’s promise.

“The president himself and others in the administration indicated to us that that is the policy,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Also speaking at the news conference was media and real estate mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, elected last month as chairman of the Presidents Conference.

Zuckerman reaffirmed the Jewish community’s commitment to solidarity with Israel.

His remarks came in the wake of the U.S. Reform movement’s recent decision to cancel its youth movement summer trips to Israel, and by expected poor attendance at next month’s Maccabiah Games.

Last Friday, Maccabiah organizers announced that next month’s Games will go ahead as scheduled, despite mounting concerns over security. The organizers had been expected to postpone the games for the first time since World War II but reconsidered after the U.S. delegation, the second largest, decided to attend.

In an effort to show solidarity with the Jewish state, Israel and American Jews are cooperating on a new initiative to send one or two members of every synagogue in the United States to Israel in the coming months.

Dubbed “Operation Joshua,” the campaign is the latest effort to show solidarity with Israel. It is being organized by the Israel Government Tourist Office, with the assistance of the Presidents Conference.

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