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Pressure builds for Mideast violence monitors

JERUSALEM, July 22 (JTA) — As Israeli-Palestinian violence continues, a push to send international monitors to try to reduce tensions is gaining momentum.

The G-8 group of leading economic nations, meeting in Genoa, Italy, over the weekend, endorsed a proposal to dispatch an international peacekeeping team in an effort to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. The United States for the first time supported the proposal, which long has been advocated by the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has long opposed the force, claiming such bodies are ineffective and would only provide Palestinian militants cover to continue their anti-Israel activities.

But with the growing international pressure, two ministers are saying that Israel should not reject the idea out of hand.

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said last Friday that he questions the efficacy of international monitors — and that Israel would agree to such a body only if the observers are American.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres added his voice on Sunday. Speaking on Army Radio, Peres said a distinction must be made between a monitoring force that would have some powers and one that would function only as observers.

In any case, Peres said, Israel has not yet received a formal proposal for dispatching an international team.

“When the matter is raised, we will consider it and decide,” he said.

Last Friday, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, met with Peres and asked him why Israel opposes the idea.

“The observers won’t be able to enter the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or the places where booby-trapped cars are being prepared,” the Israeli daily Ha’aretz quoted Peres as saying. “They will only be able to report on the Israeli response.”

There were media reports Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son, Omri, had told Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat that Israel is not ruling out the idea of monitors. But the premier denied during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting that Omri and Arafat had discussed the matter.

Meanwhile, Israeli security forces went on heightened security, fearing that Palestinian militants will try to avenge the July 19 killing by Israeli vigilantes of three Palestinians, including a 3-month-old baby.

Israeli newspapers carried banner headlines Sunday that warned of possible revenge attacks.

On Sunday, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian who planted a bomb near an office complex in Haifa. A police spokesman described the device, which a bomb squad safely defused, as “very large.”

Earlier in the day, police on alert for Palestinian bombers had set up roadblocks around entrances to the city.

Israeli officials also were expecting reprisals after a Palestinian militant was killed in an explosion in Hebron last Friday.

Israel denied any involvement in the blast that killed Rajai Abu Rahab. Palestinian sources accused Israel of assassinating him, but Israeli security forces called the incident a “work accident” that occurred as the man was preparing a bomb to use against Israel.

Amid cries for vengeance, the funeral for the Palestinian infant killed last week was held over the weekend.

After carrying out the drive-by shooting near Hebron, the assailants were believed to have fled toward Israel.

A Jewish group calling itself the Committee for Road Safety claimed responsibility for the shooting. Israeli police believe right-wing Israeli extremists carried out the attack.

Last week, Israeli security officials said a Jewish underground cell operating in the West Bank has been involved in attacks on Palestinians, but it was not clear whether this cell was behind the latest shooting.

The attack “was a horrifying and abominable act,” Peres said Sunday. “These people brought shame to the Jewish people and disaster to Israel,” he said, calling on those responsible to turn themselves in to police.

Other Israeli officials, including the president, Sephardic chief rabbi and settler leaders, were swift to condemn the killings.

At the same time, however, the organization Zo Artzeinu, Hebrew for This Is Our Land, published an ad in a settler newspaper last Friday calling for Arafat to be killed.

Army Radio reported Sunday that the Palestinian Authority may present Israel with a list of Israeli settlers and settler groups it considers a threat to the Palestinian population.

The politically loaded move would mirror the lists of wanted Palestinian militants that Israel has submitted to the Palestinian Authority.

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