Violence Mars Arafat's Declared Ceasefire

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

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli-Palestinian Authority ceasefire declaration was marred by violence on Thursday, throwing into question an oft-delayed meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. That meeting seemed more likely earlier this week, when Arafat called for a halt to the violence.

Arafat declared a surprise ceasefire at the start of the Jewish Rosh HaShanah holiday after a midnight meeting on Sunday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's son Omri and Foreign Ministry Director General Avi Gil.

The declaration seemed to pave the way for a meeting between Peres and Arafat to discuss ceasefire arrangements. Violence appeared to abate slightly on Wednesday, but then continued with a deadly attack on Thursday.

Sarit Amrani, 25, was killed and her husband Shai was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting attack on their vehicle on Thursday as the couple and their three children were traveling near Jerusalem.

The children were not injured in the attack, in which the vehicle was hit by at least 12 shots.

Prior to the shooting attack, Peres said in a radio interview that Arafat was "making a serious effort to reduce the terror."

But Sharon telephoned Secretary of State Colin Powell overnight and told him that Arafat was not upholding the ceasefire.

Powell suggested that the two talk later in the day to discuss the situation and make a decision if there needs to be "more U.S. pressure" applied on Arafat or if other actions need to be taken, Sharon advisor Dr. Ra'anan Gissin said by telephone.

There have been 11 attacks since Wednesday, including mortar fire in the Gaza Strip and more than 100 grenades thrown at a single army outpost on the Israeli-Egyptian border, Gissin said. Two Israelis were also wounded, one seriously, in a roadside blast on Wednesday.

Gissin accused Arafat of having done the "convenient thing" in making a declaration but not taking the more difficult "pro-active steps" of arresting gunmen or going after Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.

PA Minister Saeb Erekat said the PA was committed to the ceasefire even though shooting had continued, which he blamed on the deaths of two Palestinians and closures which are still in place.

Palestinian sources earlier reported that two people were killed in clashes with soldiers on Monday and Tuesday.

"We're trying to sustain the ceasefire," Erekat said on Thursday. "We want Peres to come immediately [and meet with Arafat]."

Erekat said that there was a "need to see action by both sides" including a resumption of security cooperation and a coming together to begin to implement the recommendations made by the Mitchell committee, designed to end the bloodshed and return the two sides to the negotiating table.

"We're waiting to hear from them about the meeting [between Arafat and Peres]," he added.

Sharon said earlier, that he would only allow a meeting between his foreign minister and Arafat to take place if there was first a 48-hour period of quiet. The two agreed to a meeting last month but it has yet to take place.

Diplomatic sources were quoted as saying that Sharon dispatched his son and Gil to offer Arafat an Israeli withdrawal from areas under his jurisdiction, an end to initiated military strikes and an easing of certain restrictions on the Palestinians in exchange for a ceasefire, which would then allow the meeting to take place.

Arafat responded on Monday by issuing an open letter calling for a ceasefire.

"I have issued strict instructions for a total commitment to the cease-fire," Arafat said. He reiterated the message in front of the television cameras in Gaza in both English and Arabic.

Following the announcement, the Israeli army withdrew more than 35 tanks and armored vehicles from positions they had taken up around PA-controlled Jenin and Jericho, witnesses said.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad said openly that they rejected Arafat's call for a ceasefire.

The Palestinian National Liberation Movement, a Syrian-based breakaway faction of Arafat's own Fatah group also vowed continue what it called its "legitimate and just struggle side-by-side with all the [Palestinian] national and Islamic factions until we expel the occupation [forces] and liberate Palestine."

An Israeli commentator said on Thursday, that what is needed is for Arafat to speak to the various leaders personally as he had done in Bethlehem-Beit Jala to bring about a halt to shooting attacks on the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The ceasefire in that area has been effective for several weeks.

This is the sixth time Arafat has committed to a ceasefire in during the last year. None of them ever took hold.