New Violence Rocks Shaky Mideast Ceasefire Attempt

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - New episodes of violence in the Middle East are raising doubts about whether a month-old U.S.-brokered ceasefire agreement has any chance of working.

An apparent Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in his car Monday morning near a Gaza Strip crossing point, shortly after an Israeli soldier died from wounds he sustained in an overnight roadside bomb blast.

Captain Shay Shalom Cohen, 22, was killed and another soldier lightly wounded when an explosive device was activated near their vehicle outside the West Bank town of Hebron, an army statement said.

According to radio reports, the device was similar to the kind that Hizballah used against Israeli troops before they withdrew from southern Lebanon last year. Experts have been warning that the Hizballah is becoming more involved in the Palestinian uprising.

Since the outbreak of hostilities last September, 128 Israelis have been killed primarily in terror attacks and 511 Palestinians have been killed primarily in clashes with Israeli troops and in Israeli retaliatory attacks. Thirteen Israeli Arabs were also killed last fall by Israeli police during pro-Palestinian rioting.

The military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the Gaza suicide attack on Monday. In fact, the militant Islamic organization has vowed to send a total of ten suicide bombers to avenge the shooting death of an 11-year-old boy over the weekend.

According to Brigadier General Lior Shalev, the Palestinian suicide bomber who died Monday probably intended to blow up his vehicle near an Israeli bus or convoy on a road that is used by both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

However, due to what Shavlev called a terrorist "work accident," a great tragedy had been prevented, he said. There were no injuries or damage in the blast, other than the death of the suicide bomber.

The explosion happened on a road where PA police maintain posts in order to prevent this kind of attack, Shalev charged, indicating that the PA had not acted to scuttle this attempt. He said the vehicle was packed with dozens of pounds of explosives and mortar shells.

Hamas's military wing identified the suicide bomber in Monday's attack in a statement sent to a news agency, saying it had been undertaken in response to "the assassination and the killing of children."

Hamas pledged on Sunday to send 10 suicide bombers against Israel in revenge for the killing of Khalil Mughrabi in the Gaza Strip on Saturday. Palestinians claimed that boy had been throwing stones at soldiers who fired on him.

The army said Mughrabi was killed in an area where there was an exchange of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops.

No Seven-Day Countdown Yet

A seven-day test period of the Israeli-PA ceasefire agreement, called for by Secretary of State Colin Powell 12 days ago, has yet to begin.

The one-week trial was supposed to clear the air, so to speak, thus helping the two sides implement a ceasefire agreement brokered by CIA chief George Tenet almost four weeks ago.

But talking about a ceasefire has proved much easier than accomplishing one. Ten Israelis and 18 Palestinians - including two suicide bombers - have been killed since the two sides agreed to a ceasefire.

The one-week ceasefire was supposed to be followed by a six-week cooling-off period as prescribed by a commission led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. The Mitchell committee, which investigated the outbreak of violence nearly ten months ago, made a series of recommendations for producing calm and returning the two sides to the negotiating table.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat reportedly issued new orders for Palestinians to comply with the ceasefire agreement after a weekend phone conversation with Powell.

The move followed a recommendation by the PA cabinet to start counting the seven-day quiet period from the day the two sides agree on a timetable for the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not likely to agree to such a plan. Sharon, backed by Washington, has been adamant that the violence must stop completely before there is any progress on the implementation of the Mitchell report.

The last phase of the Mitchell recommendations - to which both Israel and the Palestinians have agreed - is the resumption of negotiations toward a permanent settlement, to be implemented only after complete calm has been restored and lasted for at least six months.

Nevertheless, some 50 Israeli and Palestinian academics met near PA-controlled Ramallah on Sunday and called for an immediate resumption of peace talks. It was the first such gathering of its size in the last 10 months.