Arafat's Cabinet backs cease-fire offered by Israel

Six Palestinians killed

Hamas dismisses deal, vows to avenge deaths

August 08, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

GAZA CITY, Gaza - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Cabinet endorsed an Israeli cease-fire proposal yesterday as Israel killed six Palestinians, including a leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas, which vowed revenge.

The Palestinian approval could open the door for Israeli troops to pull out of Gaza and later from West Bank towns in exchange for Palestinians' assurances that they would crack down on militants and prevent attacks on Israel.

The tentative agreement was the first sign of hope in weeks of unremitting violence. But Hamas rejected the plan, virtually guaranteeing that attacks against Israelis will continue.

"It all depends on the political will [of the Palestinians] and on deeds on the ground," said Jonathan Peled, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet late yesterday to iron out details of the "Gaza First" proposal, resuming talks after a four-month freeze.

Palestinians are demanding that Israel first withdraw its troops from Ramallah, where Arafat has his headquarters.

The tentative cease-fire agreement came as a delegation of senior Palestinian officials arrived in Washington for meetings today and tomorrow with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The meetings will be the highest-level talks between the United States and Palestinian officials since President Bush called for Arafat to relinquish power.

Hamas' vows for revenge for the killing of Hussam Hamdan, 26, who is also the son of a senior Hamas leader, could scuttle the diplomatic moves.

A sniper shot Hamdan while he stood on the roof of his house in the Khan Younis refugee camp. According to Israeli officials, Hamdan ran several Gaza terrorist cells and was responsible for planting hundreds of explosives and firing mortars at Israeli soldiers and civilians.

"This new terror action from the side of the Israelis will not pass without revenge," said Abdel Aziz al Rantissi, a Hamas spokesman.

Rantissi warned that Hamas could target Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Why not?" Rantissi said. "As they are targeting our leaders, I think their leaders should not be safe. ... I think Sharon is on the same level as Adolf Hitler."

Israeli commandos also raided the West Bank town of Tulkarm yesterday and surrounded the house of Ziad Daas, a local leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an offshoot of Arafat's Fatah faction. Israel blamed Daas for the execution-style killing of two Israeli restaurant owners and for a shooting at a banquet hall in Hadera in which six Israelis were killed.

In the Israeli raid, a firefight broke out and a sniper shot Daas. An Israeli army representative said three members of his militia also were killed.

Also yesterday, Israeli tanks, backed by helicopters, rolled into the village of Beit Lahia, a few miles north of Gaza City, firing shells and guns, according to residents. A Palestinian police officer was killed, apparently by a stray bullet, according to hospital officials. Israel's army said troops were shot at and returned fire.

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