War Looms As Israeli-Arab Conflicts Spread
London (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday reiterated an earlier ultimatum to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat: Stop the current wave of Palestinian violence in the disputed territories by Monday night or consider the peace process dead and face a tougher response.
"If we do not see the difference actively implemented on the ground, and a calming of the situation, we will draw the conclusion that Arafat has deliberately decided to abandon the negotiations, the peace process," Barak told a press conference.
"In this situation, under the right of self-defense, we will know what to do and how to act, how to respond, how to initiate those steps that are needed in order to make sure that our citizens and our soldiers are well protected," he warned.
Despite the deadline, first announced on Saturday, fresh eruptions of violence were reported on Sunday.
A Palestinian attack on a bus carrying Israeli workers left eight wounded, prompting Barak to order the closure of the PA's international airport in Gaza. A radio report said Israel would only allow Arafat's personal jet to use the facility.
The opening of the airport, a key Israeli concession in the peace process, raised fears that the PA would use it to fly in weapons in contravention of signed agreements.
In other attacks, an Israeli man was killed when his vehicle was stoned by Palestinians near Haifa, and a Palestinian was shot dead by Israelis near Nablus in the northern West Bank.
Nablus earlier this weekend was the location of a major symbolic victory for Palestinians after mobs occupied and destroyed a Jewish holy site - the tomb of the biblical figure Joseph.
The rioters set the site ablaze, destroying Jewish religious texts. The rioters also hoisted a PLO flag.
The Israelis last week temporarily ceded responsibility for the site's safety to PA police after an Israeli soldier guarding the tomb was killed. However, PA forces were unable or unwilling to stop the mob from desecrating the site revered by observant Jews.
The violence that erupted 10 days ago in Jerusalem and spread throughout the disputed territories has cost at least 90 lives, most of them Palestinians killed in armed clashes or rioting against Israeli troops.
A new dimension to the conflict was added Saturday when the Hizballah militia in southern Lebanon kidnapped three Israeli soldiers in a still-disputed part of the border area and also attacked Israeli border posts with rockets and automatic weapons.
Israel rushed troop reinforcements to the border and, for the first time since its unilateral evacuation of its "security zone" last summer, Israel mounted air strikes against enemy targets, and the two forces fired shells at each other.
Barak warned Lebanon and Syria - which dominates the country and sets much of the political and military agenda - to rein in the Islamist militants or face tough retaliatory action.
The Israeli-Palestinian violence has sparked demonstrations across the Arab world by protestors calling on their governments to join the "battle for Jerusalem and Palestine."
With the approach of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar beginning Sunday evening, many in Israel recall the day in 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack supported by nine other Arab states. After two days on the defensive, Israel managed to turn the battle around and repel the invading armies in the south and north.
Recent days have seen the Yemen government call on Arab countries to supply weapons and fighters to the Palestinian uprising.
In Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan and Egypt, protestors have taken to the streets, while in Saudi Arabia, a leading Muslim leader, Sheik Mansour bin Ali al-Hussein, was quoted as calling for jihad against Israel and the US.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has called for an emergency Arab summit for later this month.
In Beirut, Lebanese newspapers that do not usually print on Sunday, published special editions celebrating the Hizballah success in kidnapping the Israelis, whom a Hizballah leader said may be exchanged for Arabs imprisoned in Israel.
The Beirut Daily Star on Saturday published calls by prominent Muslim clerics for all Arabs to join the "holy war ... to liberate Jerusalem and all of Palestine."
Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon joined demonstrations protesting the violence and expressing their readiness to participate in the "war" against Israel. Two Palestinians were killed when Israeli soldiers south of the border fence were attacked by a stone-throwing mob inside Lebanon and opened fire.
Referring to the situation in the PA self-rule areas and Lebanon, deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that, if necessary, "We will fight on two fronts. We have enough strength for that. We shall have to be less restrained than we were in the past."
The United Nations Security Council Saturday night passed a resolution condemning "acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life."
The resolution passed 14-0. The United States abstained.