A new terror attack against Israel has raised new U.S. doubts regarding Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s ability — and willingness — to rein in terrorists.
Sunday’s terror attack at a major intersection just outside Haifa claimed only one fatality, the suicide bomber himself.
The bomber was spotted by police officers before the attack, which injured at least 23 Israelis.
They fired at him before he detonated the nail- and screw-studded bomb attached to his body. Local police believe he intended to carry out the attack on a bus.
The attack came a week after a series of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa claimed the lives of at least 26 people.
One of them, Ido Cohen, 17, was critically wounded in the Dec. 1 attack on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. He died Saturday night at a Jerusalem hospital. Cohen, who was in a coma with severe head wounds, never regained consciousness.
Following the latest attack, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell questioned Arafat’s ability to lead the Palestinians.
Those misgivings were echoed Sunday by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The violence by Arab terrorists is “destroying” Arafat’s authority, Powell said Sunday.
The terrorists “will not push Israel into the sea. So they will not be successful if that is their goal,” Powell added.
Cheney also questioned Arafat’s ability to exercise control.
He said on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” that “until Arafat demonstrates that he is serious about suicide attackers, there won’t be progress” in efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
The Palestinians, he said, “are led by someone who can’t control terrorists.”
Arafat has come under intense U.S. pressure to arrest terrorists following last week’s attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa.
The pressure prompted Arafat to launch an unusually harsh verbal attack on U.S. officials, accusing them of having a pro-Israel bias.
Arafat became visibly angry last Friday night when an interviewer for Israel’s Channel One television asked him about the continued U.S. pressure on him to clamp down on terrorists.
“Dear God, who cares about the Americans,” Arafat said. “The Americans are on your side and they give you everything.”
He went on to accuse the United States of providing the airplanes and tanks that Israel uses against the Palestinians.
Earlier last Friday, Arafat said Palestinian officials had arrested 17 of the 33 terrorists on a list presented by the U.S. Mideast envoy, former Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni.
Arafat said 15 of the terrorists were arrested in the West Bank city of Jenin, and that more arrests were on the way.
Zinni presented the Palestinians with the list earlier last week.
On Sunday, hours after the latest terror attack, Zinni hosted a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian security officials.
Zinni said at the start of Sunday’s two-hour meeting that he might leave for home unless real progress on ending the violence was made within 48 hours.
Zinni also convened a similar meeting last Friday.
The discussions focus on finding practical steps to combat terror and violence.
According to Palestinian officials, last Friday’s meeting was not successful. The two sides came close to a fistfight, they said.
Given such reports, few observers are optimistic about Zinni’s peace mission.
In other violence Sunday, Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in a West Bank raid.
Palestinian officials said the four killed in a town near Tulkarm were Palestinian policemen.
Israel said the four had opened fire on soldiers, who were searching the area for terrorists.
Earlier in the weekend, Israel resumed military strikes in the Gaza Strip.
In a pre-dawn bombing last Friday, the army hit the Palestinian Authority’s main police headquarters in Gaza after Palestinians fired 10 mortar shells at Jewish settlements.
The airstrike reduced two four-story buildings to rubble.
The attack ended a two-day lull in Israeli military actions last week that Israel said was intended to give Arafat a chance to act against terrorists.
The continued airstrikes have prompted some to question whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out to topple Arafat.
For a majority of Israelis, according to a newly released poll, that would be just fine.
According to a Gallup poll published last Friday in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, more than half of the Israelis questioned said they would be happy if Arafat was deposed.
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