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Mideast Violence Falls Sharply

January 3, 2002

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JERUSALEM (AP) _ Since Yasser Arafat called for an end to bombing and shooting attacks against Israelis more than two weeks ago, Mideast violence has dropped to its lowest levels in the 15-month-old conflict.

There are still daily shooting incidents. But no Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in three weeks, officials said Wednesday. Twenty Palestinians have died, including seven killed during clashes that erupted as Palestinian police began a crackdown on militant Palestinian groups.

Volence surged in the first half of December, but fell sharply after the Palestinian leader’s Dec. 16 speech, calling for an end to suicide bombings and ``terrorist activities″ against Israel.

In the first half of December, 37 Israelis died in three suicide bombings and in shooting attacks. On the Palestinian side, 60 were killed, including seven suicide bombers.

Before his speech, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip were firing mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza almost daily. The mortars prompted retaliatory raids by Israeli forces.

Since the speech, mortar attacks have ceased.

Israel says it security actions have been crucial to the decline, citing four major planned attacks that were foiled in the past two weeks.

Israel’s military has entered Palestinian controlled areas nine times since Arafat’s speech and arrested 45 suspected militants.

Israeli officials said Wednesday that the average number of daily attacks by Palestinians has dropped from about 30 before Arafat’s speech to about 10. Most of the incidents are relatively minor.

The only Israeli killed in volence in the past three weeks was an Israeli reserve soldier shot along the border with Jordan. It was not clear who carried out the attack, though it appeared the attackers came from Jordan.

Since the Mideast fighting broke out 15 months ago, 857 people have died on the Palestinian side and 242 have died on the Israeli side.

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