U.S. Truce Effort Near Collapse As Violence Continues Unabated

Israelis and Palestinians alike are rapidly losing all faith in the U.S.-brokered cease- fire that was supposed to put an end to more than nine months of violence.

On Monday — the worst day of violence since the cease-fire went into effect on June 13 — media reports in Israel and abroad were saying the truce was on the verge of collapse.

The deadly violence erupted only days after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell left the region, having secured agreement from both sides on a timeline for advancing toward peace negotiations.

Under that agreement, a six-week cooling-off period was to begin after a full week passed without violence.

But soon after his diplomatic effort ended, it was hard to find a 24-hour period unscarred by violence.

On Monday, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed an Israeli. Israeli police said the man had been killed while shopping at an open-air market within Israel proper, contradicting earlier reports that he had been shot on a West Bank road.

Earlier Monday, nine Israelis were treated for shock after two car bombs blew up in the Israeli town of Yehud, which is located near Ben-Gurion Airport.

One of the bombs was planted in the car of Yehud resident Smadar Steiner, who said she parked her car on the street the previous night and did not come down until after the explosion.

“All I can say is thank goodness I was not in the car, because it’s usually a time that I’m in the car,” she told Israel Radio. “I could have come down a few minutes before the explosion. It could have ended differently.”

She said the bombs went off at the time she usually takes her children to school — “which this morning I didn’t do.”

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the car bombings, saying it was retaliating for an Israeli helicopter attack late Sunday in which three members of Islamic Jihad were killed.

Israeli security sources said the car the three were traveling in was packed with explosives that were going to be used in an attack against Israeli targets.

The U.S. State Department criticized what it described as “Israel’s policy of targeted killings.”

Though Israel does not formally admit to the assassinations, the Security Cabinet recently authorized the policy for Israel’s “self-defense” after Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to round up wanted terrorists.

One of the three terrorists killed in the helicopter attack was identified as Mohammed Bisharat, who was allegedly involved in planning several attacks that took place within Israel, including recent terror bombings in Netanya and Hadera.

He survived an Israeli attempt on his life several weeks ago, according to Palestinian officials.

There has been violence on a near-daily basis since the cease-fire was announced last month.

On Sunday, Israeli soldiers killed two members of Hamas who were planting roadside bombs near an Israeli army base in the West Bank, the army said. Three other Palestinians escaped capture following a lengthy gun battle.

The same day, a bomb exploded near a busload of soldiers on their way to paratrooper boot camp in the West Bank, according to Israel Radio. No injuries were reported.

And in another incident Sunday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israeli bakery truck traveling on a West Bank road. The driver, a 26-year-old Israeli Arab, was lightly wounded in the leg.

NEXT STORY