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Lawmakers Cancel Arafat Meeting After Palestinians Kill Israeli Soldiers

January 10, 2002
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A Palestinian attack that killed four Israeli soldiers has caused five members of the U.S. Congress to cancel a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

The lawmakers said Wednesday that the murder of four Israeli soldiers by Hamas at a military outpost, coming after Israel’s Jan. 3 capture of 50 tons of weapons from a ship allegedly headed for the Palestinian Authority, led to the unanimous decision.

The lawmakers’ decision came after a Palestinian attack on an Israeli army outpost Wednesday shattered a recent lull in violence and threatened a further escalation of the conflict.

The four Israeli soldiers and two armed Palestinians were killed early Wednesday in a gun battle that broke out after the two Palestinians crossed the border fence and attacked an army outpost on the southern Gaza Strip border near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom.

The two men wore Palestinian police uniforms and were armed with rifles, hand grenades and explosives. Reports said they received back-up assistance from six others who remained on the Gaza side of the fence.

One of the troops killed was a company commander. Two Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the clash, one of them seriously.

All of the troops were members of a Bedouin unit.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Mashaal, said in remarks broadcast from Lebanon that the organization’s military wing had carried out the attack.

Hezbollah television named them as members of Hamas, and said one was also in the Palestinian naval police.

At a briefing for reporters, the head of the army’s southern command, Maj.-Gen. Doron Almog, said there is coordination between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. He said Hamas planned to step up attacks following U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni’s recent mission to the region to advance a cease-fire.

The Palestinian Authority denied any involvement in the attack and said an internal inquiry would be launched.

Regarding reports that one of the attackers was a member of the Palestinian naval force, the Palestinian Authority said no personnel were reported missing.

One senior Palestinian security official called the incident an attempt by opposition groups in the region to sabotage efforts to restore calm in the area and advance a cease-fire agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened the Security Cabinet to discuss the attack.

Several of the U.S. legislators were in Israel to attend a meeting of Jewish lawmakers and ministers. It is unclear whether all five were scheduled to meet with Arafat, or just some of them.

“Yasser Arafat has made himself an international pariah through his own actions,” Nadler said. “When Yasser Arafat gets serious about peace, I think he will find the world more receptive to him, but he must show that he is serious through actions, not just words.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee applauded the lawmaker’s decision, saying it sent a strong message to Arafat.

“Palestinian violence against Israelis, which has continued unabated for more than a year, has reached horrific proportions,” AIPAC President Tim Wuliger said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by phone with Arafat on Wednesday and told him that the United States wants a full explanation about the weapons ship.

Powell said he found the reports that Palestinians were involved in the weapons transfer “deeply troubling,” according to a State Department spokesman.

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