Barak Says Israel Won’t Retaliate
JERUSALEM (AP) _ After seven weeks of Mideast bloodshed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat aren’t on speaking terms, but both are speaking of restraint.
Barak said Sunday that Israel didn’t want to escalate the conflict, and therefore was not planning to retaliate for the shooting death of an Israeli soldier. Palestinian leaders said they were working to implement Arafat’s recent call for an end to shooting from territory under his control.
Two Palestinians were killed and nine injured in three separate clashes on Sunday. A 14-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and six Palestinians injured in a brief clash in the Gaza Strip, doctors said. And a 22 year-old Palestinian was killed and two injured in a gunfight with an Israeli army position outside Nablus in the northern West Bank, a doctor in a Nablus hospital said.
In a third incident, also in the West Bank, about three Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli bus near the Jewish settlement of Alfei Menashe, but nobody on the bus was hurt. Israeli soldiers who were nearby returned fire, but the army was not sure whether any of the Palestinians was hit. A Palestinian with a gunshot wound in his abdomen was brought shortly afterward to a hospital at the nearby city of Qalqilya, a hospital official said.
In the Jordanian capital, Amman, an Israeli diplomat suffered minor wounds in a shooting attack.
But overall, violence has ebbed. In the past few days, most casualties have come from brief outbursts of shooting, rather than the large-scale, sustained clashes that characterized much of the conflict that has claimed more than 230 lives, most of them Palestinian.
Previous lulls have lasted only briefly, followed by renewed spasms of unrest. Still, both sides said Sunday there were hopeful signs that calm could be restored.
Israeli army chief Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said the Palestinians have not issued a cease-fire order, but the Palestinian leadership was ``on the road to reducing its (hostile) activities.″
The Palestinians said Sunday that their security forces were acting on Arafat’s call for restraint, issued Friday. The Palestinian leader ordered an end to shooting from Palestinian-controlled territory, though he did not refer to land under Israeli security.
``The order means that there will not be shooting from all the areas that we control,″ Hisham Abdel Razek, the Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, told Israel radio. But the ``popular intefadeh,″ or uprising, will continue until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, he said.
In a gunbattle Saturday, a Palestinian policeman shot dead an Israeli soldier and wounded two more in the Gaza Strip, before being killed by return fire.
Israel has a long history of swift retaliation when its soldiers or civilians have been attacked. But Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday that Israel would not respond militarily at this point.
``Israel would make a mistake if it caused an immediate escalation, since there is no doubt that we would be accused of torpedoing chances for calm,″ Barak said in a statement issued by his office.
Barak and Arafat have met face-to-face only once since the violence erupted, a rocky session in Paris that failed to produce a truce. But in their most recent remarks, they have refrained from mutual criticism.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security officials have been holding some meetings, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said. But the cooperation ``is far from being the level and quality it was″ before the fighting began Sept. 28, he added.
In a confrontation Sunday, Abdel Rahman al-Dahashan, 14, was killed when he was shot in the chest at a stone-throwing demonstration at the Karni crossing with Israel, Palestinian doctors and witnesses said.
The Israeli army, however, said it was not aware of clashes at Karni and did not fire live rounds at protesters.
As of Sunday evening, no major clashes were reported in the Palestinian territories. Also, Israeli Maj. Gen. Yomtov Samia noted a marked decrease in attacks against Israeli troops, with five shooting incidents overnight in the Gaza Strip, compared to as many as 20 a night in recent weeks.
In Amman, Jordan, Israeli diplomat Yoram Havivian was slightly injured when a gunman fired on his vehicle, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. He was treated at an Amman hospital and then returned to Israel, said ministry spokeswoman Yaffa Ben-Ari.
Havivian was slightly wounded in the arm and the leg, but it was not clear whether his injuries were caused by bullets or shattered glass from his car. Barak described the shooting as ``very grave″ and called on Jordanian authorities to apprehend the attacker.
On the diplomatic front, former Israeli president Ezer Weizman met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheik.