JERUSALEM (Jun. 22)
The events this week had a familiar ring to them: The United States dispatched envoys to the Middle East and daily violence showed little sign of abetting.
The violence flared again on Saturday, when Israeli troops killed a senior Hamas leader in Hebron.
Abdullah Kawasme was held responsible by Israel for attacks in which some 50 Israelis were killed.
The “targeted killing” followed last Friday’s shooting near Ramallah in which Israeli American Zvi Goldstein, 47, was killed, and his parents and wife injured.
Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
Speaking Sunday in Jordan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern that Israel’s killing of Kawasme could impede progress on the U.S.-backed “road map” for peace.
“It is still important to remain committed to moving forward,” he told a news conference in Jordan, after members of the “Quartet” — the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations, met to discuss ways to keep the road map on track.
Israeli security sources said Sunday night that the United States had clarified that Powell’s remarks were not a condemnation of the Israeli action, the daily Ha’aretz reported.
The World Economic Forum, being held in Jordan, gave U.S. officials a platform for maintaining a presence to advance implementation of the road map.
The U.S. assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, William Burns, who was taking part in the meeting in Jordan, is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority this week.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the region later in the week or over the weekend.
Powell’s remarks came two days after he termed Hamas an “enemy of peace,” and said the Palestinian Authority must do more than just negotiate a cease fire with the group, but must “end violence and the capacity for violence.”
Powell met separately last Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
Powell said he stressed to Abbas that Palestinian terrorism must end.
“Violence and terror is not the way to build a state,” he said, adding that the sight of their own forces maintaining security might give Palestinians “confidence that organizations such as Hamas and other terrorist organizations perhaps do not have the right answer.”
Kawasme, one of the most senior Palestinian militants in the territories, was killed during an attempt by Israeli special forces to arrest him.
According to army officials, Israeli forces shot Kawasme when he tried to resist arrest.
But Palestinian sources said he was standing outside when he was shot by the undercover troops, reports said.
On Sunday, Sharon called the killing a “successful and important” operation whose purpose was to ensure the security of Israelis. Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting, he said Israel would engage in such operations as long as the Palestinians do not assume security responsibility in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
If the Palestinian Authority is unable to take such responsibility, “we will act to safeguard Israeli security,” Sharon was quoted as saying.
Sharon’s statements came amid reports that Israel and the Palestinians were close to agreement on a proposal to transfer security responsibility to the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Under the proposal, Israel would give the Palestinians a period of three to six weeks to organize.
Observers have suggested that a deal would hinge on progress in cease-fire contacts between the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian groups, primarily Hamas.
Abbas has said he will not use force against Hamas to stop terror.
But Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, an open critic of the road map process, has accused the Palestinian Authority of using the cease-fire efforts as a front for disguising their lack of commitment to take genuine action against terrorism.
Mofaz was quoted as telling the Cabinet on Sunday that Israel would ultimately have to “launch an active” war on Hamas.
It was not immediately clear how the latest killing would affect the diplomatic efforts.
Israel’s botched assassination attempt against senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantissi in the wake of the Aqaba summit led to a bloody week of violence and retaliation that left dozens of Israeli and Palestinians dead.
Ducking international criticism for its policy of “targeted killings,” Israel said its focus was on “ticking bombs,” and reiterated its position that it will continue to defend its citizens as long as the Palestinians do not take security responsibility and crack down on the terrorist infrastructure.
Israel has described Kawasme as the “father” of imminent terrorist attacks and pointed to his responsibility for the deaths of Israelis in recent attacks, including a June 11 suicide bus bombing on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street, a May bus bombing in the city’s French Hill neighborhood and a March bus bombing in Haifa.
Hamas also claimed responsibility for the shooting attack near Ramallah that killed Goldstein.
In the incident, shots were fired at a car near the settlement of Ofra, but Goldstein was able to continue for another six miles until he lost control of the car and it overturned. Goldstein, 47, from the West Bank settlement of Eli, was born in Brooklyn, and he and his wife, Michal, immigrated to Israel in 1992.
Goldstein’s parents, Gene and Lorraine Goldstein, both 73, from Plainview, N.Y., were seriously wounded in the attack. Goldstein’s parents had come to Israel to attend their grandson’s wedding. The attack occurred as the family was on its way to a Jerusalem hotel for part of the wedding celebrations. Michal Goldstein was lightly wounded.
Following the Kawasme killing, Hamas renewed its threat of retaliation. But reports also quoted a Hamas official Sunday night as saying that the cease-fire contacts with the Palestinian Authority were continuing, and that the group would likely give its response by Monday.