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Cease fire broken { July 25 2002 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/25/international/middleeast/25MIDE.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/25/international/middleeast/25MIDE.html

July 25, 2002
Palestinian Cease-Fire Was in Works Before Israeli Strike
By JAMES BENNET and JOHN KIFNER


JERUSALEM, July 24 Tanzim, the Palestinian militia connected to Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction, was preparing to announce a unilateral cease-fire with Israel before an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb early Tuesday on a Hamas leader's home in Gaza City, Palestinian officials and Western diplomats said today.

Israeli officials acknowledged that they had known of a possible Palestinian cease-fire proposal before the bomb was dropped, but they dismissed it as a futile attempt by Palestinians without influence over terrorist groups.

Several Palestinian factions, including groups belonging to Tanzim, have vowed retaliation for the bombing, which killed the Hamas leader, Sheik Salah Shehada, and 14 others, including 9 children. More than 140 people were injured.

European Union officials led the effort for a cease-fire, which intensified over the past two weeks and was supported by Jordanian and Saudi diplomats, people familiar with the process said. Bush administration officials had been informed of the effort, they said.

During extensive negotiations with Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority, some Hamas leaders had said they would cooperate in a cease-fire if it was connected to an Israeli withdrawal from areas it seized in the West Bank, Palestinian officials said. Publicly, top Hamas officials have imposed cease-fire conditions that Israel considers absurd.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, acknowledged that there had been talk of a cease-fire, but he said it was being exaggerated. He said that several cease-fires had already been negotiated and ignored during the 22-month conflict.

"They had so many opportunities to really issue a cease-fire," Mr. Gissin said. "Not in one case did we learn about orders issued down to the field commanders to say, `You've got to stop.' "

A senior Israeli military official said tonight of the cease-fire effort: "There was no chance it was going to happen. It was only thoughts or dreams or desires of some people who have no influence on terrorist activities."

[One Israeli was killed and another seriously injured early Thursday when gunmen, apparently Palestinians, fired on a car near the Jewish settlement of Elei Zahav, south of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, the Associated Press reported.]

A text identified as the planned cease-fire announcement that was published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, promised an end by Tanzim to "all attacks on innocent men, women, and children who are noncombatants."

Fierce debate among Israelis continued today about the attack. Mr. Sharon told Yediot Ahronot that he would not have authorized the strike had he known its results in advance. On Tuesday, Mr. Sharon had called the bombing "one of our major successes."

The air raid was approved by Mr. Sharon and by Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the defense minister, who gave his approval by telephone from London, where he was on vacation.

The Israeli Army and security agency are investigating what Israeli politicians have called faulty intelligence that indicated civilians would not be endangered by the bomb, the government said.

The bomb, which was dropped into a densely populated neighborhood from an American-made F-16 jet, pulverized Sheik Shehada's house and two neighboring houses, leaving a jumble of cinder blocks and steel bars. Several other houses were damaged. The bodies of three children were recovered today.

Of the 15 people killed, 11 were not in the house when the bomb hit.

"I think all of us feel sorry for the loss of life of innocent people, particularly children," said Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister.

[At the United Nations on Wednesday night, in an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss the bombing, Palestinians called the bombing a war crime and demanded the prosecution of Israelis.]

Palestinians and Israeli critics of Mr. Sharon accused him of deliberately scuttling cease-fire talks. The attack fit a pattern, they said, of attacks against popular militants during times of relative quiet. The government has argued that its policy of killing militant leaders is essential to security.

Mr. Gissin said he did not believe that Sheik Shehada, a founder the paramilitary wing of Hamas, would have ever abided by any cease-fire. Israeli security officials said that Sheik Shehada was preparing attacks against Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip at the time he was killed.

Israeli forces have seized control of seven of eight major Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank. And in Gaza, tensions are at a new high, raising the possibility of an Israeli operation there as well. Three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel last night, and several mortar shells were fired at Israeli settlements within the strip.

Yediot Ahronot reported today that the text of the cease-fire was finished just 90 minutes before the attack on Mr. Shehada, during a meeting of Tanzim leaders in Jenin. Israeli defense officials had been updated by European diplomats on the evolving text, the newspaper reported, in an account Western diplomats confirmed today.

Ahmed Razak Yehiyeh, the new Palestinian interior minister, who has responsibility for security forces, met for almost three hours with Mr. Peres in Tel Aviv on Saturday. Mr. Yehiyeh has been leading the negotiations among Palestinian factions for a cease-fire, Palestinian officials said.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, also participated in the Tel Aviv meeting, and he said the group discussed the possible cease-fire. "They had a plan submitted to them in writing that pointed to the fact that there is a serious dialogue going on to maintain the Authority and to stop the suicide bombing," he said. "And in that same paper it urged them to refrain from any assassinations."

Mr. Peres today repeated a statement he had made on Monday that Israel was prepared to withdraw from some West Bank cities, provided Palestinian security forces would ensure Israelis' security.



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