JERUSALEM, Sept. 9 (JTA) — Calls for Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire talks were all but drowned out this week by a series of Palestinian terror attacks.
On Sunday, a Palestinian suicide bomber struck in the train station in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, killing at least three Israelis and wounding more than 60. The station was packed with soldiers returning to base. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
That same day, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a van ferrying teachers to a school in the West Bank. A teacher and the driver were killed, and four other teachers injured.
In another incident Sunday, a car bomb exploded at a busy intersection in central Israel near the city of Netanya. The Palestinian driver of the car, which was waiting at a red light, was killed in the explosion.
Police speculated that the driver was heading to Netanya, the scene of several previous attacks.
Israel retaliated for the Palestinian attacks with helicopter missile strikes Sunday in four West Bank cities. The helicopters hit two empty offices of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction near Ramallah and a government building in Jericho. Helicopters also struck the Palestinian police headquarters near Jenin, while Israeli tank shells hit a security post in Nablus.
A day earlier, Israeli helicopters also used missiles to attack a Fatah office in Ramallah. Israel said it was retaliating for several Palestinian terror attacks, including a Sept. 6 shooting in which an Israeli soldier was killed.
Israel’s Security Cabinet reacted to the continuing terror by approving a limited plan on Sunday to set up buffer zones between Israel and the West Bank to prevent infiltrations by Palestinian militants.
The Security Cabinet could decide, on a case-by-case basis, to make areas off-limits to Palestinians — except those who live there — and would permit troops to arrest nonresidents.
Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the plan would make life intolerable for Palestinians living and working in the closed zones.
Despite the continued violence, E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Sunday issued a statement calling on Israel and the Palestinians to hold cease-fire talks.
The ministers said it was imperative for the European Union and the United States to pressure the two sides to meet as soon as possible.
Before the latest eruption of violence, Arafat had been expected to call the E.U. foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to announce the date and place of a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
E.U. officials had hoped for several weeks to arrange a Peres-Arafat meeting, but after the weekend violence it was not clear whether the two would meet any time soon.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that President Bush and Arafat would meet later this month in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly if Israel and the Palestinians hold truce talks that yield practical results.
But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice denied the report, saying there currently are no plans for a Bush-Arafat meeting.
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” television program, Rice also said U.S. officials had received new assurances from the Palestinian Authority that it was trying to stop what she called the “senseless” violence, but still needed to do more.
“We are waiting to see” results from the Palestinian promises, Rice said. “We believe they can do more — and they really do need to do more.”
Asked whether Bush would become more personally involved in Middle East peacemaking efforts, Rice said the president already was very involved.
But, she added, it would be hard for Bush to play a more active role until the United States had the cooperation of both sides and there was an end to Palestinian terrorism.
The European Union has taken a larger peacemaking role since Bush came into office in January. During their weekend meeting in Brussels, the E.U. foreign ministers called on the United States to increase its involvement in the Middle East.