Amid Ceasefire Violations, Israel's Patience Is 'Wearing Thin'
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel will not begin a count-down to confidence-building measures called for in a U.S.-brokered ceasefire until the Palestinian violence stops. On Tuesday, a senior government advisor said Israel's patience was wearing thin, after two Israelis were killed in separate shooting attacks.
But in a sign of how shaky the ceasefire is, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat insisted he has already complied with the provisions of the agreement, which called for a complete halt to all bloodshed.
Under growing pressure to strike back hard in the face of violations on the Palestinian side - especially in deadly attacks -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that despite the situation, "I will not lead this nation to war."
"War is the last resort, and we currently have other options to try and resolve the security situation," he told members of his Likud party. "To go to war today, in my opinion, is totally incorrect and inappropriate. This is not something we should do."
At a meeting with American Jewish leaders on Monday, however, Sharon warned that continuing deadly attacks would "create an unbearable situation that will not enable Israel to continue with its present approach over time."
Doron Zisserman was killed on his 38th birthday near the entrance to the community of Einav in the disputed West Bank, where he lived. The army had removed a roadblock at the site earlier, in compliance with the ceasefire agreement.
Earlier, Dan Yehuda, 35, was killed in another attack on a vehicle. Two groups with connections to Arafat's Fatah faction claimed responsibility for the shootings.
In another terror-related death, a 15-year-old girl died Tuesday of wounds sustained in the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv disco 19 days ago, bringing the death toll from that single attack to 21.
And in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian doctors reported that a 16-year-old Palestinian hurt in a clash with soldiers earlier this week died of his wounds.
In line with the ceasefire agreement, Israel continued lifting restrictions but warned that the process could be stopped if attacks flared.
Various roads throughout the West Bank have been opened to traffic, roadblocks have been removed or downgraded, and tanks withdrawn to "rear posts" in four areas, according to an army statement.
Senior Sharon advisor Ra'anan Gissin said Tuesday Israel would not move forward into the next phase of the Mitchell Commission's recommendations until there is a complete cessation of "violence, terror and incitement."
The commission headed by former Senator George Mitchell recommended a four-stage plan for returning calm to the area and getting the two sides back to negotiations. An understanding for the first phase - a total ceasefire - was presented by CIA chief George Tenet last week and agreed to by the two sides.
"[Arafat] hasn't made a clear declaration and taken steps to stop the violence," Gissin said by telephone. Although Arafat did call a ceasefire several groups - including some with links to his own faction - rejected the move. Mortar, shooting and bomb attacks have continued.
Gissin charged that Arafat could stop the shooting if he was determined to do so, pointing to the fact he has achieved a complete break in violence in some flashpoint areas.
One of the provisions of the Tenet ceasefire agreement is for the PA to arrest known terrorists, something Arafat insists he will not do.
Nonetheless, he told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman on Monday he has complied with the provisions of the agreement, and it was Israel which was jeopardizing the ceasefire deal.
He demanded that Israel freeze construction work in Jewish settlements and lift the security closure on PA-controlled areas. A settlement freeze falls in the third phase of the Mitchell recommendations, following a six-week "cooling off" period.
"The situation is grave and there must be intense and urgent international efforts to defuse the conflict and confrontation before things get out of the hands of all of us," Arafat said.
He accused Israel of being "obsessed by the mania of force and war" and claimed that it was this obsession that caused the measures he has thus far taken not to be completely effective.