'This is War' Says Israeli Minister
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Just hours after reports of a UN-brokered "breakthrough" to end the violent conflict raging in the Middle East, an Israeli cabinet minister said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is heading for war with Israel and that the diplomatic process is dead.
Meanwhile, the violence continues. On Thursday morning, two Israeli reserve soldiers were killed by a group of furious Palestinians in PA-controlled Ramallah, near Jerusalem.
The men, along with two others, apparently made a wrong turn while looking for their base, and ended up in Ramallah. According to eyewitness accounts, they were then "kidnapped" and taken to a police station. A large group of protestors subsequently stormed the building, killed two of the Israelis, and set their bodies on fire.
It's not immediately clear what happened to the other two, but one report said they were being held inside the police station. PA policemen reportedly were unable to control the crowd.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told Israel radio it was a "very grave" incident. He said the details were being checked out and that Israel would know how to respond.
In other clashes overnight and early Thursday, three Palestinians were killed and an Israeli soldier was seriously wounded in gun battles.
The latest incidents come amid round-the-clock diplomatic efforts to try to save the peace process. Barak earlier gave Arafat an ultimatum to end the violence or consider the process dead.
In possibly the most pessimistic assessment yet from a senior government minister, Deputy Prime Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a radio interview Thursday, "Arafat decided at some stage to choose the path of violence, the path of confrontation ...We are on a collision course. This is war.
"War - that's what he wants," said Ben-Eliezer, who was a career army officer until 1984. "There is no diplomatic process today and the diplomatic process is dead."
Ben-Eliezer echoed earlier warnings by Barak that Israelis should prepare for an increase in Palestinian terror attacks, following the release of scores of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist prisoners from PA prisons over the past two weeks.
Barak told the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee Wednesday that "the danger of terror activity is written on the wall," after the prisoner releases.
Hamas political leader Ismael Abu Shanab did not contradict the Israeli leaders, saying in a newspaper interview: "We are in a state of war, and in a state of war all Israeli targets are legitimate."
Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign ministry could not confirm a "breakthrough" reported Thursday morning that Israeli and Palestinian security officials would meet CIA chief George Tenet to try to quell the violence.
The announcement came from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said a meeting between security officials from the three sides could take place as soon as Thursday.
Tenet, who arrived in Israel on Thursday, has good relations with the PA security forces.