Israeli Forces Brace For Violence
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli security forces were heavily deployed around Jerusalem's Old City on Friday in case of problems following Muslim prayers, while officials warned that violence, including the possibility of suicide attacks, is likely to continue for months. Washington, meanwhile, is pursing a last-ditch effort to resuscitate the diplomatic process.
Some 7,000 Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount dispersed without incident after Friday prayers despite an earlier Palestinian declaration that every Friday should be a "Day of Rage."
Palestinian leaders have also hinted that even the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the PA will not halt the violence.
"The intifada is a cry for independence," PA West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub was quoted as saying.
Rajoub has laid the blame for the clashes on the Israeli army, Jewish settlers, and a security closure preventing Palestinians from working in Israel. These things "may leave the PA with no choice but to respond," he said.
Israeli army chief Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz said it was not certain how long the current confrontation would last, but that "it's not a matter of days...it's a matter of months."
"We estimate the Palestinians will continue with the waves of violence and shooting incidents and I estimate there will also be attacks," Mofaz said in a radio interview.
Nabil Arair, the 24-year-old from Gaza who blew himself up with some 10 pounds of explosives in a suicide attack in Gaza on Thursday, is being praised by Palestinians as a holy martyr.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred on the fifth anniversary of the assassination of the group's leader Fathi Shkaki in Malta, widely believed to have been carried out by Israeli agents.
Although the level of violence is said to have ebbed, shooting attacks and stone throwing continued throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip overnight. A bomb was detonated 75 feet from an Israeli civilian bus traveling in the West Bank. No one was injured.
President Clinton is still trying to get Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat to come to Washington for talks. Barak and Clinton spoke by phone again on Thursday but no travel plans were announced.
According to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz on Friday, the meetings would be a step towards organizing another summit, to take place after the November 7 American elections.
The individual meetings, sources in Jerusalem were quoted as saying, would have three goals - to create diplomatic momentum to subdue violence, prepare proposals for a final agreement, and prevent the opposition Likud party from entering the government.
Likud leader Ariel Sharon has demanded that Barak declare the understandings reached at July's Camp David summit to be null and void. Clinton's peace team and Israeli doves see those proposals as the basis of a permanent agreement.
Upon his return from Camp David Barak made it clear he regarded proposals discussed at the summit as null and void, because they were not accepted by the other side.
Meanwhile both the White House and the PA have expressed disapproval at a House resolution passed earlier this week, expressing support for Israel and condemning the PA for the wave of violence that has left more than 130 people dead during the past month.
"We here in the administration don't think it's particularly useful," White House spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters, stressing the fact that the resolution does not have the force of law behind it.
"The Palestinian Legislative Council condemns the American position," said the PA parliament Thursday, accusing the "shameful" Congress of bias toward Israel.
PA Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo went a step further and called on the Arab world to stop any cooperation with Congressmen.
"There must be a Arab stand regarding the members of the U.S. Congress," Abed Rabbo said on Palestinian Television, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
"The Arabs must adopt a resolution not to meet with any of them. Also the [Arab] parliaments and governments should boycott them," he added.