Two Shooting Deaths As Israel, PA Start Formal Ceasefire

July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Despite the death of an Israeli less than 24 hours after a U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian Authority ceasefire went into effect, Israel said on Thursday the ceasefire was still in force and began lifting security restrictions.

An Israeli security official was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack along the main road between Jerusalem and a nearby settlement bloc in disputed territory on Thursday morning.

The Palestinian gunman fired at a passing security vehicle at very close range, an army spokesman said. The injured Israeli chased the gunman, who was running in the direction of PA-controlled Bethlehem, and shot and killed him.

Earlier another Palestinian died of wounds he sustained in a drive-by shooting in which three other Palestinians were also wounded on Wednesday evening.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are still being investigated. PA officials accused Israeli settlers of carrying out the attack, but Israeli authorities said Palestinian gunmen had apparently mistaken the vehicle for an Israeli one.

Overnight, there were several mortar attacks in the Gaza Strip and various shooting incidents.

"Israel is continuing with the ceasefire but our patience is limited," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Foreign Press Coordinator David Baker, after the murder of the security official. "Our ability to exercise restraint is not infinite."

Israel is experiencing an average of 20 various kinds of attacks each day and has not seen the level of commitment to the ceasefire from the PA that Israel has invested, Baker said.

"Arafat must decide whether he wants to be a leader of a band of terrorists or whether he wants to lead his people to peace," he added.

The U.S. urged both sides to implement the full ceasefire plan.

"Both sides should ensure that the ceasefire is implemented immediately," said U.S. Embassy Spokesman Larry Schwartz.

"We're gravely concerned about the ceasefire. It's something that needs to be protected by everyone in the region," Schwartz added.

Easing Restrictions

The Israeli army began lifting restrictions on Palestinian movement on Thursday, a key element of the ceasefire.

An army spokesman said that one roadblock had already been removed in the Gaza Strip near the Netzarim junction - a major flashpoint in the conflict - and there were several other points in the West Bank where roadblocks were also being removed.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel would ease more restrictions "if the Palestinians fulfill all the commitments, in particular by stopping mortar fire."

No official version of the ceasefire brokered by CIA chief George Tenet has been released. But leaks to the press have listed the obligations incumbent on both sides.

The PA is reportedly immediately to apprehend and incarcerate terrorists in areas under its jurisdiction, many of whom it released at the beginning of the trouble.

It is also required to collect mortars and other illegal arms, close mortar factories, provide Israel with information on expected terror attacks, prevent arms smuggling and call on PA security officials to refrain from aiding in attacks on Israelis.

Israel is required to refrain from attacking PA military and civil institutions, to use non-lethal weapons when dispersing demonstrators, act against civilians who launch revenge attacks against Palestinians, re-deploy its troops to positions held before the outbreak of trouble and lift closure on the territories and the encirclement around PA cities.

The two sides are to prevent individuals and groups from using areas under their authority for carrying out attacks or harboring those who do, work toward resuming security cooperation, prevent riots and control demonstrations, and establish buffer zones around confrontation points.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat submitted a letter to Tenet objecting to the buffer zone idea. He is quoted to have said that the PA would prevent terror attacks from now on but would not arrest those who committed acts of terror in the past.

The militant Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both rejected the truce.

But PA Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Tenet agreement could represent a "turning point" if the Israeli government stopped "Israeli terrorists" from shooting at Palestinians. He said that in reference to the death of the Palestinian in the drive-by shooting.

In a radio interview, Erekat would not say if the Palestinians would arrest Islamic militants, instead he said he hoped the Israel government would "rise to the occasion and announce the resumption of negotiations on permanent status."

The PA has insisted that negotiations run on a parallel track with the ceasefire agreement. Erekat said that what is needed now is a total freeze of Israeli settlements - a third stage requirement of the U.S.-led Mitchell commission recommendations.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warned that there would be mishaps on both sides but said that if they were committed to the agreement, even incidents of violence would not deter them.

State Department Spokesman Philip Reeker said that Middle East envoy William Burns would be heading back to the region soon to continue consultations on the implementation of the Mitchell commission's recommendations.