JERUSALEM (Jan. 12)
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lashed out at Yasser Arafat this week after the Palestinian Authority president called for a halt to terror attacks until after the Israeli elections.
The latest salvo in the war of words came as the ongoing cycle of violence on the ground claimed both Israeli and Palestinian lives.
In northern Israel on Sunday, two Palestinian terrorists killed one Israeli and seriously wounded another after infiltrating a farming community Sunday in northern Israel.
Israeli forces arrived at Moshav Gadish shortly after the shooting occurred to carry out extensive searches of the area. They later killed the two infiltrators.
At least two border police officers who responded to the attack were wounded, one of them moderately, in a clash with the infiltrators.
Moshav Gadish is located near an area where the local regional council recently began building a fence to prevent terrorist infiltrations from the West Bank.
In another development Sunday, an Israeli was killed by terrorists who crossed the Israel-Egypt border, according to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
Two of the terrorists were later killed by Israeli troops. It was unclear if the two were Egyptian or Palestinian. Security forces searched for a third man who fled the scene.
Following yet another deadly incident Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials disagreed about who was killed after an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in the Gaza Strip.
Israel said two members of Hamas were killed, a claim confirmed by a Hezbollah TV station in Lebanon.
Palestinian hospital officials said the two victims were a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old, adding they were not members of any terrorist group.
In another disputed incident, a Palestinian was killed when gunmen opened fire on an Israeli truck near Hebron. Security guards escorting the truck returned fire, killing the Palestinian.
The army said the Palestinian was a Hamas member, but Palestinian sources said he was an innocent bystander.
Earlier Sunday, two Israelis were lightly wounded when Palestinians fired three rockets from northern Gaza toward the Negev town of Sderot.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the strike, saying it came in retaliation for Israeli military incursions Saturday night in Khan Yunis and Beit Hanoun.
During those Gaza operations, Palestinian sources said, two people were killed and some 20 others injured during exchanges of fire with soldiers.
In Khan Yunis, Israeli troops destroyed metal workshops the army said were used to manufacture weapons.
In Beit Hanoun, troops demolished the home of a Palestinian who carried out a suicide attack three months ago against an Israeli naval boat off the Gaza coast. Three crew members were wounded in that incident.
Meanwhile, as the dizzying cycle of violence continued, Sharon on Sunday rejected a Palestinian Cabinet statement issued the day before by Arafat calling for a halt to Palestinian terror attacks until after the Israeli elections.
As the Jan. 28 election “date gets closer, we appeal to all our people to practice self-restraint,” the statement said.
Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Sharon said the statement proves “what Israel has maintained for the past two years — that Yasser Arafat has established, is responsible for and leads a coalition of terror, which he can leash or unleash and use as he pleases.”
Sharon also said the Arafat statement proves that the murder of Israelis is a “constant and permanent goal” of the Palestinian leader.
“Before the elections, it is OK to commit murder,” Sharon said. “Close to the election date, it’s better not to. After the elections, it’s OK to continue. Here, we clearly see Yasser Arafat’s true face, which is so well known to us.”
The prime minister added: “One cannot negotiate with such a man” since “any attempt to do so will only harm our ability to achieve security and peace in this land. All those who aspire to peace between peoples must understand that Yasser Arafat is an obstacle to peace who must leave the political stage.”
Also Sunday, Sharon told the British ambassador to Israel that the government did not intend to reverse its decision to bar a Palestinian delegation from attending a conference originally scheduled to be held in London this week on Palestinian Authority reform.
The Cabinet issued the travel ban as part of its response to last week’s terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in which 22 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.
Sharon told the British ambassador that Israel considers British Prime Minister Tony Blair a friend of Israel, but the Palestinians must implement reform in the territories, not in London.
In another development, Palestinian official Saeb Erekat accused Sharon of stepping of military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to divert attention from corruption allegations that have eroded support for his Likud Party in the upcoming election.
Weekend public opinion polls forecast Sharon’s Likud Party winning as few as 27 Knesset seats, down from initial forecasts of 40. The polls reflected Israeli reaction to allegations of vote-buying in the Likud’s recent primary, and to the disclosure of an investigation into a $1.5 million loan Sharon’s son took from a family friend in South Africa to pay back illegal campaign contributions to his father in 1999.
At a televised news conference last week, Sharon said the allegations surrounding the loan were an “old issue” that “has nothing to do with me.”
The chairman of the Central Election Committee chairman, Justice Mishael Cheshin, pulled the plug on the news conference while Sharon was speaking. Cheshin said Sharon was violating the law because his remarks constituted election propaganda — a charge Sharon denied.