Arafat Declares Unconditional Ceasefire, Terror Continues
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat declared an unconditional ceasefire Thursday evening but Israel was unimpressed.
The declaration came as Israeli troops were engaged in a pitched gun battle with a lone terrorist who had infiltrated into an Israeli settlement near Nablus and was holed up in a two-story home.
The attack in Elon Moreh has left at least three Israelis dead, military sources said. Two others are reported wounded, one critically, and the incident was still continuing.
Israeli tanks were being moved into positions on Thursday around PA-controlled cities in the West Bank following a suicide bomb attack in the Israeli seaside city of Netanya on Wednesday evening, according to eyewitness and media reports.
Twenty people were killed and some 140 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the dining room of the Park Hotel as some 250 guests were preparing to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover with a festive meal.
Media analysts have said Arafat made his ceasefire call in an attempt to forestall any massive Israeli retaliation.
Israeli government spokesman Arye Mekel echoed that sentiment and said that Israel was no longer impressed by Arafat's words.
"He cannot any longer be judged by his words," Mekel said by telephone. He will be judged by his "actions and non-actions," he said.
"I think the outrage in the State of Israel is such that I don't think anybody will take it seriously," Mekel said.
Arafat has declared a ceasefire several times after horrendous terror attacks when it appeared that Israel would mount a harsh response. But terrorism has continued.
"I assert our readiness to implement an immediate cease-fire as we have informed General [Anthony] Zinni," Arafat said at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Zinni has been in the area for more than a week now trying to pull together a ceasefire. Israel earlier this week reluctantly accepted proposals designed to bridge the gaps between the sides, but the Palestinians still had reservations.
But Arafat made it clear that the ceasefire he was declaring was based only on the Tenet plan and did not include any of the bridging proposals hammered out by Zinni.
"We have informed him we are prepared to immediately begin unconditionally implementing the Tenet plan as it was written, as well as the Mitchell report," Arafat said, referring to the plan CIA Director George Tenet drafted last June and the recommendations a committee headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell wrote on how to jumpstart negotiations.
Arafat earlier ordered Palestinian security personnel to vacate government buildings in anticipation of an Israeli response. Some reports indicated that Arafat, who is in the West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, feared for his life.
Following Arafat's address, PA official Saeb Erekat said at the news conference that Israel was preparing to launch attacks against PA towns and villages.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled to hold an overnight meeting with cabinet ministers to decide on Israel's response to what has been called here the "Passover massacre."
Israeli officials were earlier quoted on the radio as saying that the terror attack in Netanya had crossed all red lines.
Mekel said he didn't think that the ceasefire declaration would affect the government's decision about how it would retaliate.
The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas claimed responsibility for the Passover attack and named the bomber as Abdel-Basset Odeh, from Tulkaram, just six miles from Netanya. Odeh had reportedly worked in restaurants in the Netanya area.
Israel said it was holding the PA responsible. Israel had earlier given the PA the bomber's name and he was arrested, but later the PA released him, according to radio reports.
E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.
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