6 are killed in 2 separate attacks in West Bank

Palestinian militants vow to intensify assaults

February 19, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Four Israelis were killed yesterday in two separate attacks by Palestinian militants who, sensing cracks in Israeli resolve, vowed to intensify their assaults.

An Israeli police officer was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a car stopped at a checkpoint on a road connecting Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adummim.

About two hours later, a gunman ambushed an Israeli vehicle carrying Jewish settlers at the entrance to the Gush Khatif settlements in the Gaza Strip and blew himself up, killing himself and three Israelis.

Eleven Israelis have died in Palestinian attacks in the past four days, and police said they thwarted five suicide bombers Sunday in various parts of the country.

Leaders of Palestinian militant groups said Israelis appear to be shaken by the wave of violence and ready to push their government to change its policies. More than 10,000 protesters attended a rally Sunday in Tel Aviv to urge that Jewish settlements be dismantled.

Marwan Barghouti, a prominent figure in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, said yesterday in Ramallah that extremist groups were working together to press the uprising because "there is a change in Israel. They are disillusioned now."

Arafat was no longer jailing militants, Barghouti said in an interview, but refused to allow his police and security forces to join in the fighting. "I hope that we can breach the gap between our leaders and the reality on the street," he said. "We are escalating our struggle."

His statements contrast with those made last week by the speaker of the Palestinian legislature, Ahmed Queri, known as Abu Ala, in an interview with a Palestinian television station. He said militant groups were undermining the Palestinian cause by carrying out attacks that made it impossible for the Israeli left to win support.

"I say that some of the actions that harm us need to stop," Ala said. "We must know how to organize a proper resistance so that it will bring results and not disappointment. ... Let's be honest, everyone who visits us, or we visit them, hold the same opinion: The Palestinians are the source of the tension."

The tension between Palestinian militias and Arafat was evident again yesterday, when Palestinian officials said Arafat stormed from a room when informed that his party's military wing, headed by Barghouti, had not been disarmed as ordered.

The political turmoil was not limited to the Palestinian side. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was criticized yesterday by the Israeli right, which favors toppling Arafat by force, and by the left, which wants Sharon to return to negotiations. Sharon met last night with military advisers, but aides said the prime minister would probably continue his strategy of ordering quick incursions into Palestinian cities and bombing Palestinian security buildings.

Nahum Barnea, a political columnist for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote yesterday that Palestinians should not mistake debates among Israelis as a lack of will: "If there is one common denominator among these two peoples, it is the desire to remain here, in this ailing country, and to separate from each other."

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