Violence erupts after Arafat’s call for calm


JERUSALEM, Nov. 19 (JTA) – Israel’s pressure on the Palestinians to halt violence is beginning to work, although the situation remains volatile, the Israeli army’s chief of staff said this week.

While they were somewhat hopeful, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz’s remarks Sunday, made during a visit to an army base, nonetheless reflected Israel’s skepticism after Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat ordered Palestinian gunmen last Friday to stop firing at Israelis from Palestinian-ruled areas.

Though Prime Minister Ehud Barak has demanded that Arafat issue a public call to stop the violence as a condition for renewing diplomatic contacts, his initial response to Arafat’s statement was dismissive, saying Israel wants to see action, not words.

Israeli army officers were equally skeptical, saying it is possible Arafat had given implicit approval for Palestinians to shoot from areas under Israeli control.

Army officials noted that while there had been a drop in Palestinian violence, there were nonetheless some grave incidents that took place over the weekend.

On Saturday, a Palestinian policeman infiltrated the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip, killing an Israeli soldier and seriously wounding two others before being shot dead by Israeli troops at the site.

The soldier killed in the attack, Staff Sgt. Baruch Snir Flum, 21, of Tel Aviv, was among the last Israeli troops to withdraw from Lebanon in May. He had four months left until his army discharge.

On Sunday, Barak told his Cabinet that he does not plan to retaliate for the attack.

“Israel would make a mistake if it caused an immediate escalation, since there is no doubt that we would be accused of torpedoing chances for calm,” he said in a statement after the Cabinet meeting.

The Palestinian Authority denied involvement in the attack and said it would investigate the incident.

Also on Sunday, an Israeli diplomat in Amman, Jordan was slightly injured when he was shot at while getting into his car in front of his home. Yoram Havivian was struck by shards of glass from his car window, but it was unclear whether he was hit by gunfire, Jordan’s Interior Ministry said.

Barak called the shooting “very grave” and urged Jordanian authorities to find the perpetrator.

In another incident, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Israeli civilians in Gaza. No one was hurt, and Israeli troops returned fire.

In the midst of the ongoing violence, Israel kept diplomatic efforts on a back burner.

U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross was expected back in the region this week for further talks on trying to end the violence.

And Ezer Weizman, who stepped down from the Israeli presidency four months ago, returned to the political arena Sunday, when he traveled to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak on how to implement an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

The meeting, initiated by Mubarak, coincided with the 23rd anniversary of the historic visit the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made to Jerusalem before Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty.

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