Israel, Int'l Community Await Arafat Ceasefire Moves
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel and the world community waited Monday to see whether Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would follow through on a ceasefire declaration he made after a suicide bomber killed 20 Israeli youths at a Tel Aviv disco Friday.
Israeli officials said they had not seen any signs that Arafat was taking steps to halt the violence and incitement. Meanwhile Palestinian leaders vowed to continue their uprising despite the ceasefire declaration.
Just before midnight on Friday, a Palestinian joined a crowd of mostly teenagers waiting to enter the Dolphin club on the Tel Aviv beachfront. He detonated a powerful bomb strapped to his body, filled with nails, screws and ball bearings.
The blast killed 17 people immediately, and three more have since died. At least 105 maimed and wounded. On Monday, two of the victims remained in critical condition and 24 were still hospitalized.
Most of those killed and wounded were teenagers, many of them girls, almost all immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They had been planning to attend a party for immigrants at the club and girls were being admitted for free before midnight.
Two sisters, aged 16 and 18, were among the dead.
The threat of a powerful Israeli retaliation, coupled with tremendous international pressure, prompted Arafat to declare a halt to the violence after the worst terror attack Israel had experienced in years.
"We have exerted and we will now exert our utmost efforts to stop the bloodshed of our people and the Israeli people, and to do all that is needed to achieve an immediate and unconditional, real, and effective cease-fire," Arafat announced at a press conference in Ramallah at the weekend.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed any retaliatory action to give Arafat a chance to make good on the declaration, but indicated that Israel wanted to see action behind the Palestinian leader's words.
"Arafat needs to immediately stop incitement, to stop terror and acts of violence, to re-arrest all the terrorists he released and who are standing behind the wave of terror," he told reporters.
But on Monday, senior Sharon advisor Dore Gold said that, "the signs this morning are not good."
Although shooting attacks had decreased, Gold pointed to an overnight mortar attack on a settlement in the Gaza Strip, and the detonation of a roadside bomb in the West Bank as indications that a ceasefire was not being upheld.
"Israel has not seen any concrete signs [that a ceasefire] is being implemented," said David Baker, foreign press coordinator at the Prime Minister's Office.
"We have not seen a significant letting up of incitement [in the PA media]," he added.
Uprising to continue
Conflicting messages are emerging from Palestinians as to how they perceive Arafat's call.
PA officials were quoted as saying there had been a 99 percent decrease in shooting attacks against Israel since the ceasefire announcement.
A senior aide to Arafat said the PA leader would be meeting with heads of various factions to discuss the matter.
Speaking on Palestinian radio, the aide was quoted as saying that the ceasefire should be observed within the framework of the U.S.-led Mitchell commission recommendations, but that "legitimate opposition" to Israel would continue.
A West Bank commander of Arafat's Fatah faction said in a radio interview on Monday that his group would honor the ceasefire but not stop the intifada (uprising).
"We are stating that the popular intifada is the natural right of the Palestinian people. It is the thundering voice of the Palestinian people in opposing the occupation," Hussein al-Sheik said.
A dozen factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization gathered in Gaza on Sunday to discuss Arafat's ceasefire. Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were among the groups that pledged the uprising would continue.
"Our people have a right to defend themselves against aggression, occupation and settlements, and to pursue the popular intifada as a legitimate means against the continuing occupation of our land and to achieve our national rights," said the group in a statement.
But exactly how the various groups define what constitutes the uprising is unclear. Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, also said in a statement from Damascus that it would continue to carry out suicide bombings.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in touch with both sides. He telephoned both Sharon and Arafat on Sunday.
In a network television interview on Sunday Powell said he had told Arafat that this was "the time to bring he violence under control" and expressed some optimism that steps were being taken to implement a ceasefire.
"He gave a very important statement yesterday when he called for the unconditional cessation of violence," he said.
"He put it out over Arabic news media, which was important. And he has now given instructions - and we can see the results of those instructions - to a number of his top security people to bring things under control," he added.