Mideast leaders express lingering doubts

The Associated Press
Thursday June 14, 2001

JERUSALEM — After grudgingly accepting CIA chief George Tenet’s truce deal, Israelis and Palestinians argued Wednesday over who should make the first move, but agreed the next 48 hours would be a crucial test period. 

Each side quickly cast doubt on the other’s good faith, undercutting hopes that the deal would hold. In nearly nine months of fighting, several cease-fire efforts collapsed, including one personally brokered by then-President Clinton. 

In the first killing since the cease-fire agreement was announced early Wednesday, a Palestinian was killed and three wounded in the West Bank several hours later when gunmen opened fire on their truck from an oncoming car, police said. Israeli media said their reporters received messages claiming that the attack was carried out by a Jewish group seeking revenge for Palestinian attacks. 

In a statement, the leadership of Jewish settlers “strongly condemned” the shooting. 

President Bush also played down expectations, saying the emerging agreement was just a first step. “It’s still a fragile situation there,” Bush said during a stop in Belgium on the second day of a European tour. 

Israel said it considered the cease-fire as having begun at 3 p.m. Several hours later, a mortar shell fell on the Jewish settlement of Atzmona in the Gaza Strip, but there were no reports of injury. 

Over the past week, gunbattles and clashes that had raged for months in the West Bank and Gaza have waned. Intermittent shootings, however, have persisted. Two Israelis were wounded in West Bank shootings Wednesday morning. 

Palestinian officials said also that two children were wounded in Gaza by Israeli bullets, despite the truce agreement. 

Tenet’s meeting in Tel Aviv was aimed at working out the details of implementing the truce. His mediation has been the highest-profile Mideast effort yet by the Bush administration. 

Israel’s foreign minister, Shimon Peres, praised the U.S. mediation after meeting Secretary of State Colin Powell in Brussels on Wednesday, saying it had helped avert “a bath of blood, of hatred. Now we have to judge the future by events.” 

The Palestinians complained after the three-hour meeting that Israel did not present a timetable for easing its crippling security closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and for withdrawing troops from the edges of Palestinian towns, two key provisions in Tenet’s document. 

“The Israelis are not dealing with the Tenet proposal seriously,” the Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, told The Associated Press. 

Palestinian officials said they expected Israel to start easing the closure within the next two days. 

Israel said it would only take steps after it sees a truce having taking hold, with officials saying the start of the cease-fire ushered in a 48-hour test period. 

“If and when we see a cease-fire on the ground, we will start implementing our side of the deal,” said Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner. “For the time being, we have not seen a cease-fire.” 

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer instructed the military to begin implementing the accord “in parallel with a Palestinian commitment to stop and prevent terror attacks and violence,” according to a statement from his office. 

The statement said the military would immediately ease blockades around Palestinian towns and allow shipment of goods. Within 48 hours, if the cease-fire holds, the Israeli military would begin changing its deployment. 

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said he expected another security meeting to be held on Friday to assess the situation. 

Israeli media said that according to the Tenet plan, the two sides have a week to carry out their basic commitments, followed by a six-week cooling off period that could pave the way toward a resumption of peace talks. 

The Tenet formula goes hand in hand with recommendations by the international Mitchell Commission, which have been accepted by both sides and require Israel to freeze Jewish settlement construction once a cease-fire is in place. 

On the Palestinian side, there has been widespread opposition to a truce. 

Islamic militants, who have carried out more than a dozen bombings in Israel in the past nine months, said Wednesday they would continue their attacks. 

“The Palestinians will continue the intefadeh (uprising) by all means until it achieves its goals,” including the end of Israeli occupation, said Ismail Abu Shanab, spokesman of the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip. 

Militia commanders close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have also said they oppose ending the uprising without having made political gains. 

Under the Tenet plan, Israel and the Palestinians would try to prevent anyone in areas under their control from carrying out acts of violence. 

Israel would refrain from attacks on Palestinian Authority targets, while Palestinian security forces would arrest terror suspects. 

The Palestinians would confiscate illegal weapons, including mortars, rockets and explosives, while Israel would use non-lethal means to disperse Palestinian demonstrations.