Israel Suspicious of Arafat Intentions Despite Declarations

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat intends to arrest Palestinian militants, he said - a key Israeli demand - but Israeli security sources say they believe he is not serious about combating terror.

Israel troops remained on Tuesday in positions they took up in five PA-controlled cities in the West Bank following the terrorist murder of an Israeli minister nearly two weeks ago.

In the Israeli city of Ra'anana, a senior Israeli naval officer discovered a booby-trapped fire extinguisher next to his bed when he awoke on Tuesday. He contacted police who sent sappers to the house to detonate the explosive device.

The army said the West Bank was quiet overnight. However, in the Gaza Strip, five mortar shells and nine anti-tank grenades were fired at Israeli civilian and military targets overnight, the army spokesman's office said.

A meeting between Israeli and Palestinian security officials, with the participation of U.S. officials, overnight, failed to produce a formula that would guarantee quiet once Israeli troops withdraw from those areas. But officials agreed to meet again.

Israel withdrew its troops from PA-controlled, Bethlehem-Beit Jala, early Monday after a ceasefire agreement was reportedly worked out there.

Israel has said it has no intention of remaining in the PA controlled areas and has pledged to leave as soon as the PA takes charge of arresting wanted terrorists and maintaining quiet.

Washington welcomed the partial pullback but urged Israel to complete the process.

"We would say that first of all the withdrawal from Bethlehem and Beit Jala is encouraging," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We look to Israel to complete the process of withdrawal from all the other Palestinian controlled areas."

Boucher condemned two shooting attacks on Sunday in Hadera and near Kibbutz Metzer that left five Israelis dead and dozens more wounded.

"We've called upon Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to carry out their responsibilities to move immediately to find, arrest, and bring to justice all those responsible for terrorist actions and violence against Israelis."

Arafat has said that he is ready to control and arrest rogue gunmen but he wants Israel to keeps its end of the bargain.

"We are not asking for the moon. We are asking for them to...respect what had been agreed upon...but also to save the peace process," Arafat said in an interview on a major American television network, broadcast on Monday.

The Palestinian leader said that he is "completely" committed to the peace process. He also insisted that he is both willing and able to control Palestinian militants and Hamas.

"We are ready," he said. "But you know that I am following them, and I had arrested many of them, because some of them...are not following the orders which had been declared by the Palestinian leaders."

A senior Israeli security source said earlier that Israel believes Arafat has no intention of combating terror in his areas.

Speaking to reporters condition of anonymity on Monday prior to the broadcast of the interview, the senior source said Arafat thought that by declaring a ceasefire, condemning terror attacks and particularly condemning the September 11 attacks in the U.S., he was exempt from taking any further action.

An infiltration into a Gaza Strip settlement, a shooting attack at a bus station in the Israeli city of Afula, and a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the entrance to an Israeli kibbutz (agricultural community) earlier this month failed to convince Arafat that he needed to take action, the source said.

But the unprecedented murder of an Israeli Minister by Palestinian terrorists on October 17 convinced him that he was in danger of losing all the international goodwill he had garnered since the suicide plane attacks in New York, Washington and outside of Pittsburgh, he said.

Still, the source said, Arafat has not made any serious moves to arrest terrorists from organizations, although he knows who and where they are.

The three people behind Sunday's attack in Hadera are on the top of a list of fugitives, which Israel has handed over to the PA and those responsible for several suicide bombings in northern Israel area all within Arafat's circle of contact, he said.

"At the same time, he tells the Americans and Europeans that they are under arrest. They're not under arrest," he said, describing Arafat's kind of "arrest" as being put up in a five-star hotel with a telephone to continue conducting business as usual.

"I don't want him to put them under arrest. I want him to fight terrorism," he added.

In a separate interview with the Italian newspaper La Republica, Arafat said he believes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants peace.

Sharon has said that Arafat is to Israel as Osama bin Laden is the U.S. Among the political leaders there are very few in Israel that still consider Arafat a "partner for peace."

Over the weekend Arafat told a conference in the Gaza Strip that the Palestinians would continue to wage what he called a "holy defensive war" against Israel until the Palestinian flag flew in Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

He also accused Israel of preparing a "hellish plan" of massacres of the Palestinian people. Israel denied the charges.