Surge In Violence Dashes Mideast Ceasefire Hopes

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

Jerusalem ( - Fresh terror attacks on Tuesday shattered any illusion that a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was in place, even as the PA suggested Israel was not being serious about returning to negotiations.

An Israeli was killed and another wounded early Tuesday in two separate drive-by shooting attacks, and two mortar shells were fired at an Israeli community in the Gaza Strip.

Asaf Hershkowitz, 31, was shot in the chest and killed when his car was riddled with bullets as he drove near the settlement of Ofra where he lived, the Israeli army said.

Military sources were quoted as saying that his attackers had likely escaped on foot to nearby PA-controlled Ramallah.

Hershkowitz's father, Ariyeh, was killed just three months ago in a similar drive-by shooting.

A group calling itself the Brigades of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs claimed responsibility for the shooting attack, saying in a statement sent to a news agency it was carried out "to avenge the Palestinian martyrs killed by the Israeli army," and warning that such attacks would continue.

Earlier, another Israeli was lightly wounded in a drive-by shooting near PA-controlled Nablus. Two mortar shells were fired at an Israeli community on Tuesday following other mortar attacks overnight.

In another incident, three Palestinians, including two children, were killed in an explosion in Ramallah, near the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Hassan El-Kadi, a member of Arafat's Fatah/Tanzim militia, was wanted by Israel in connection with the murder of a 16-year-old Israeli.

The PA accused Israel of responsibility. The Israeli army denied any involvement in the blast.

Two Hamas activists were killed earlier in another explosion, apparently while they were preparing a bomb for an attack.

Talks on possible ceasefire

The upsurge in violence comes at a time Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is holding talks in the U.S. on a possible ceasefire solution and return to negotiations.

Earlier Egypt announced that a ceasefire was in place, although Peres made it clear it was still under discussion.

PA lawmaker Saeb Erekat said Tuesday he was not optimistic that a ceasefire would be reached and negotiations resumed.

Erekat accused Israel of "fragmenting" a joint Jordanian-Egyptian proposal, which calls for a one-month cessation of violence, followed by the resumption of permanent status talks and a final agreement within a year.

Israel says it wants a longer period of quiet before resuming negotiations, but Erekat said Israel was "torpedoing" the plan by demanding that the violence stop first before talks begin. The process should be a simultaneous one, he argued.

Meanwhile Israelis living in the disputed territories are demanding better security after Hershkowitz's death.

Palestinian groups have vowed they will not stop fighting until Israel evacuates more than 200,000 Israelis who live in communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But many Israelis believe that even if they leave the disputed areas, there is no guarantee that they will have peace. Numerous terror attacks have been perpetrated within the recognized borders of Israel.

Speaking just hours after her brother was killed, Yasmin Hershkowitz, said the family had no intention of leaving their home in Ofra.

"If we leave here ... and go to live in another place, they'll shoot at us there also," the teenager said in a radio interview.

"It's clear we have to continue to settle ... If not here then where? Not in Jerusalem, not in Tel Aviv, not in Netanya, not in Kfar Saba, then where?" The cities she named have all been targeted in terror attacks in recent months.

According to Yehudit Tayar, spokeswoman for the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, "much more" had to be done to protect Israelis who live in the disputed territories.

Tayar said her family has lived in the Holy Land for 10 generations, and had always faced attack, even before the state of Israel was founded.

Jewish settlers dispute the Palestinian claim that they have settled on Palestinian land. They believe it is the Biblical land of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, given to them as an eternal inheritance.

Some 97 percent of the settlements - in a heavily populated area outside of Jerusalem called Gush Etzion - were built on land bought by Jews before the state of Israel was founded, Tayar said.

The remainder were built on undeveloped land, which was not in use for agriculture or homes, she added.

Israel conquered the disputed areas from Jordan and Egypt in 1967 as a result of the Six-Day war.