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Israel Faces International Pressure After It Takes Control of Orient House

August 13, 2001
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Israel’s closure of Orient House in eastern Jerusalem appears to have dealt a new blow to hopes that more than 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence will end any time soon.

Israeli analysts likened the Israeli action against the Palestinians’ de facto headquarters in eastern Jerusalem to going for the Palestinians’ political jugular.

Israel closed down Orient House early last Friday in retaliation for an Aug. 9 suicide bombing at a Jerusalem pizza shop that killed 15 people and wounded more than 130 others. Israel accused the Palestinian Authority of using its offices in the Jerusalem area to support Arab terrorists.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet that he is authorizing the creation of a new Israeli police station in eastern Jerusalem to deal with the eruption of tensions there.

His announcement came after Israeli security forces closed down a Palestinian communications office in Abu Dis — a further step aimed at halting activity by the Palestinian Authority in the area.

Along with taking over Orient House, Israeli security forces last Friday raided Palestinian Authority buildings in Abu Dis, located on Jerusalem’s outskirts. In addition, Israeli F-16 fighters fired two missiles at a Palestinian police station in Ramallah to retaliate for the deadly suicide bombing.

Three days after the attack at the pizzeria, another suicide bomber struck in northern Israel.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing, which wounded at least 20 people in a suburb of Haifa.

In a statement faxed to Reuters in Beirut, the terrorist group said one of its members had blown himself up in the Wall Street Cafe in the town of Kiryat Motzkin. According to Magen David Adom officials, most of the victims suffered light to moderate wounds.

Last Friday’s move against Orient House quickly inflamed Palestinian passions because the former hotel has long been a symbol of Palestinian aspirations to take control of eastern Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Israeli police scuffled with Arab protesters for a third straight day outside the former headquarters.

Ahmed Karia, a Palestinian negotiator who also is speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, said Sunday he supports armed resistance to retaliate for Israel’s takeover of Palestinian institutions in eastern Jerusalem.

“Resistance of this Israeli policy, using all means, has now become legitimate as well as a national and religious duty,” said Karia, also known as Abu Alaa.

He also called on the international community to condemn Israel and on Arabs to observe a “day of rage.”

Within hours after Israel made the move, international pressure — including criticism from the United States — began mounting on Israel to withdraw from Orient House.

Israel defended the move as a “measured response” to last week’s terror pizzeria bombing.

Both Israel’s justice minister and attorney general said the Palestinians had long engaged in political activities at Orient House, in contravention of previously signed agreements.

Some are questioning the wisdom of the Israeli move.

Palestinian sources quoted by the Jerusalem Post said Sharon did the Palestinian Authority a favor by taking over the headquarters — because the move turned world attention away from last week’s terror attack in Jerusalem.

The move has also created strains within Sharon’s unity government.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres opposed the Cabinet decision to close down Orient House. On Sunday, he threatened to resign from the government over Sharon’s policies.

Also on Sunday, Peres told members of his Labor Party that Israel should hold cease-fire talks with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat despite Sharon’s repeated refusal to hold talks while the violence continues.

Later that day, Sharon gave the go-ahead for Peres to discuss a cease-fire with Arafat, Israel Radio reported.

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