JERUSALEM (Nov. 4)
Israel’s government has a new set of difficulties.
Along with the ongoing war against Palestinian terrorism, the government faces a new domestic challenge that could well end in early elections.
The twin dilemmas were apparent Monday, when a Palestinian suicide bomber struck as the Knesset was debating three no-confidence votes, all of which ended unsuccessfully, in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
At least two Israelis were killed and 32 injured when the suicide bomber struck at a shopping center in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Saba.
Two infants were among those wounded after the bomber set off his explosives at an electronics store in the shopping mall.
Located near the West Bank city of Kalkilya, Kfar Saba has been the target of numerous Palestinian terror attacks.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
The victims’ identities were not immediately available. Police believe one of those killed was a security guard who prevented the bomber from entering the store.
The issue of how to deal with Palestinian terror has come to the forefront as Sharon negotiates to hold his government together after the Labor Party resigned from the national unity government last week.
Labor’s resignation left Sharon with a minority of 55 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Just the same, Sharon’s government survived the no-confidence motions in the Knesset.
Filed by opposition parties, the motions were defeated after the right-wing National Union-Israel Our Home bloc did not support them.
Sharon has been courting the bloc as a possible coalition partner. The bloc’s leader, legislator Avigdor Lieberman, has demanded as a condition for joining the government that Sharon form a narrow right-wing government after any new elections.
The bloc also wants the government to cancel Israel’s commitment to the Oslo accords and declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist entity.
The no-confidence motions were followed by a 69-39 vote approving Sharon’s appointment of former Israeli army chief Shaul Mofaz as defense minister.
Earlier Monday, Sharon rejected Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for early elections as a condition for joining the Sharon government as foreign minister.
Addressing Likud Party officials, Sharon praised Netanyahu’s agreement in principle to join the government, but described the demand for new elections as irresponsible, Israel Radio reported.
Netanyahu also demanded that Israel send Arafat into exile and declare its opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, there were several violent incidents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Two Palestinians, one of them identified as a senior Hamas activist, were killed when their car exploded Monday in Nablus.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the blast, which Palestinian sources blamed on Israel. A Palestinian official said the car appeared to have been booby-trapped and the bomb set off by remote control.
In other violence, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers in three separate incidents in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
In another development, Amnesty International accused the Israeli army of war crimes in Jenin and Nablus during its anti-terrorist campaign last spring.
In a report issued Monday, the human rights group cited unlawful killings, use of civilians as human shields and the prevention of medical and humanitarian aid from reaching Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli army said in a statement that its actions came in self-defense following Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians. The army said it took all necessary care in fighting a terrorist infrastructure that had deliberately established itself in the heart of a civilian population.
Amnesty International also said that Mofaz could be charged with war crimes for overseeing the military actions in Jenin and Nablus.
During the debate Monday before the Knesset approved Mofaz’s appointment as defense minister, some legislators asked for a delay in the confirmation process until Israel investigates the Amnesty report.
Last week, another group, Human Rights Watch, condemned Palestinian suicide bombings as war crimes and crimes against humanity.