Israeli-palestinian Violence Rages As U.S. Revives Its Peace Initiative

The two peace envoys President Bush dispatched to the Middle East have their work cut out for them.

Violence continued unabated for days before the slated arrival Monday of the envoys, former Gen. Anthony Zinni and the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, William Burns.

Over the weekend, Israel and the Palestinian engaged in a series of tit-for-tat strikes that have been a long-familiar part of their more than 14 months of violence.

On Saturday night, an Israeli soldier was killed in a Palestinian mortar attack in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack near the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom. Hamas officials said they were avenging last Friday’s slaying of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud in an Israeli helicopter attack.

Hanoud, who was killed along with his deputy and another man, was atop Israel’s most-wanted list for allegedly planning terror attacks that killed dozens of Israelis.

Israel charged that Hanoud was behind the June suicide bombing outside the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv and another suicide attack in August at the Sbarro’s pizzeria in Jerusalem.

Hanoud, considered the No. 1 Hamas fugitive, had evaded two Israeli attempts on his life earlier this year.

A Palestinian court sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment for his involvement in Hamas’ military wing, but he escaped from a Palestinian prison last May.

Some 50,000 turned out Saturday in the West Bank for his funeral, which was punctuated by vows from Hamas to avenge his death.

On Sunday, Israel retaliated for the Saturday night mortar attack by launching helicopter missile strikes, destroying several Palestinian security posts in Gaza.

The strikes reportedly demolished intelligence, navy and police positions of the Palestinian Authority, as well as offices used by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction.

Hanoud was killed a day after an incident that created yet more Palestinian anger and that prompted Israel to call for an investigation.

On Nov. 22, five Palestinian children were killed in Gaza when an Israeli tank shell exploded.

Palestinian police report that one of the children kicked the shell, causing it to explode, but Palestinian leaders charged that Israel had deliberately planted the shell as a booby trap.

The five children were of the same Palestinian family, and ranged in age from 6 to 14.

Faced with widespread criticism from abroad, including from the United States, Israeli officials said they would investigate the incident.

At the boys’ funeral last Friday, a 15-year-old Palestinian was killed in Gaza after Palestinian youths hurled stones at Israeli troops and the troops returned fire.

In another incident, two members of Fatah died in an explosion near the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli officials said the two were preparing a bomb. Palestinian officials said the two had stumbled on an unexploded Israeli tank shell.

In yet more violence, Israeli troops shot and killed a 13-year-old Palestinian boy during clashes Sunday in Bethlehem. The clashes erupted following a Hamas demonstration.

The violence began when protesters began throwing stones at Israeli soldiers guarding Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of the city.

In a speech last week at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that Zinni and Burns were being sent to the Middle East.

In that speech, Powell set forth a vision of peaceful Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.

To achieve that end, he called on the Palestinians to “end violence and to end terror.” He also said “Israel must be willing to end its occupation” and that “Israeli settlement activity must stop.”

On the eve of the two envoys’ arrival, Israeli and Palestinian officials said it was up to the other side to ensure the success of the U.S. peace mission.

“We will make every effort to reach a cease-fire,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday. “This is a test of Arafat and of the Palestinian leadership to demonstrate if indeed they intend to advance the peace process.”

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine Radio, “I cannot forecast whether these efforts will succeed because Sharon is trying to drown these efforts in a sea of blood.”

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