Arafat Declared 'Irrelevant' By Israel After Terror Attacks
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel declared Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat "irrelevant" and cut all ties with him Thursday following two terror attacks that left 10 Israelis dead and nearly 30 more wounded, some seriously.
The latest attack came during what was supposed to have been a 48-hour period of calm. The attacks raise more doubts about whether U.S. envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni can achieve a ceasefire between the two sides, as he hoped to do.
Since Zinni arrived two-and-a-half weeks ago, 44 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks and 50 Palestinians have been killed, 18 of them during armed attacks and another 10 who were suicide bombers.
The Israeli army and air force pounded PA targets on Thursday following a terror ambush on a bus near the settlement of Emmanuel on the West Bank on Wednesday evening.
The bus was blown up by two roadside bombs. After it was disabled, three Palestinian gunmen, whom Israel later said belonged to Hamas, sprayed the bus and other vehicles on the road with automatic weapons fire, preventing the wounded from being evacuated by rescue workers. Ten people were killed and 25 wounded.
At almost the same time, two suicide bombers raced toward vehicles traveling in the Gaza Strip, blowing themselves up but causing only minor injuries to four Israelis. A roadside bomb was also detonated.
In response, Israeli tanks destroyed the Ramallah facilities of the Voice of Palestine radio station and blew up the transmitter. The station was continuing to broadcast from mobile units.
The Scientific Counsel in Nablus was bombed, where Israel said weapons were being made. In the Gaza Strip, the headquarters of Arafat's Force 17 were destroyed, as well as a radar facility at the Gaza airport and a naval compound. The Gaza Strip was also divided into three.
Israeli troops had also reportedly taken up positions just 200 meters (yards) from the offices of Arafat, where the Palestinian leader is cloistered.
The Israeli actions came after an early morning security cabinet meeting in which it was decided that the army would move to rapidly deploy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in order to carry out arrests and confiscate weapons. The cabinet also said there would be "an adjustment" made in the way the army would deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
In the overnight meeting, between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and ministers, the special security cabinet said it held Arafat responsible for the attacks and said it had authorized certain military operations.
"Chairman Arafat has made himself irrelevant as far as Israel is concerned, and therefore, no contacts will be maintained with him," a statement from the security cabinet said. However, it emphasized that the cabinet had not given "any directive to attack Arafat personally."
The PA condemned the attacks and Israel's reaction. Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh called the Israeli military offensive "an official declaration of war against our people [which would] lead the region to more instability and destruction."
Earlier the PA had ordered all Hamas and Islamic Jihad offices to be closed but it was not clear if any action had been taken to actually close them down.
Arafat is No Longer A Partner
Israeli Government spokesman Arye Mekel, said that Israel's actions did not spell the end for the PA but because Arafat had done nothing to fight terror, from now on Israel would have to arrest terrorists itself and bring them to justice.
"We have to do what Arafat failed to do," Mekel said. "It seems that Arafat would rather fight Israel and perhaps America than to fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad," he said in reference to the PA's failure to arrest wanted militants on a list given it by Israel and the U.S.
Despite the break in relations, he said, there will be ongoing contacts with the PA, in areas such as health and trade, things that can "make life easier." Israel is still expecting the PA to the "take care of the people," while Israel will assist the Palestinians as much as possible, he added.
Nevertheless, Israel will not be conducting any more "so-called security meetings." Arafat is not a partner for political negotiations, he said.
But Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani said there will be no security solution to the current crisis if there are no political negotiations.
"I don't think the situation is going to change," Kanafani said. "We have been separated for a long time. [Now] somebody has declared a divorce."
Kanafani accused Sharon of trying to undermine the PA but said that the only way to come to a solution would be politically.
"[It is a] simple and na\'efve idea", he said, to think that arresting 70 to 100 people is "going to cool down the situation. It is only upping the ante."
According to Kanafani, what is needed is some kind of promise that will give young Palestinians hope for the future, otherwise, he said, they will not lay down their arms.
"It's going to take a political solution," he said.
Both Israel and the U.S. have demanded that Arafat take action, including the arrest of militants, to halt the terror before any political negotiations take place. The EU joined the U.S. this week in demanding that Arafat clamp down on terrorist organizations.
Nevertheless, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the terror attacks that U.S. envoy Zinni would remain in the region "committed to helping the parties find a way to begin the security talks, and the President remains hopeful that the talks can begin."