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Arafat says Israel turning back on peace as Syria fumes over Golan (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) GAZA CITY 12/31/03) Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=3&u=/afp/20031231/wl_mideast_afp/mideast_031231165626
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GAZA CITY (AFP) - The Palestinians and Syria accused Israel of turning its back on peace after it tried to assassinate a top Hamas militant in Gaza and moved ahead with plans to build hundreds of new homes in the occupied Golan Heights.
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"Our hand is still extended for a peace of the brave, we strongly believe in this peace and this belief will not wane despite the grief and suffering endured by our people," veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in a televised address Wednesday, as thousands of supporters took to the streets of Gaza City to mark the 39th anniversary of his Fatah movement.
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"This Israeli government does not want the peace of the brave, does not work towards resuming the peace process and does not want to implement the roadmap or come back to the negotiations table."
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Arafat charges that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses to comply with the demands of the internationally backed roadmap blueprint for peace, which forsees the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
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Sharon in turn has labelled Arafat as the main obstacle to any resumption of peace talks between the two sides, confining him to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.
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Arafat´s address followed an Israeli air strike in Gaza City late Tuesday which failed to kill its intended target, a military leader of the main Islamist movement Hamas.
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It was the first targeted killing operation against Hamas for some three months and was greeted with a defiant response.
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"This will not stop the resistance of our people or change the position of Hamas which advocates the pursuit of battle until the end of the occupation and the recovery of the rights of the Palestinian people," leading Hamas figure Ismail Haniya told AFP.
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Jamal Jarah, a leader of Hamas´s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and another military activist escaped unhurt when Israeli helicopter gunships failed to hit their car with a first strike.
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The pair managed to flee before the helicopters fired a second rocket but 11 passers-by sustained shrapnel wounds, according to medics.
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Hamas has not carried out any suicide attacks on Israeli targets since early September, although it recently refused to declare a halt to campaigns even against Israeli civilians.
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Israeli security sources said they had "targeted senior Hamas officials involved in anti-Israeli attacks."
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With the violence blunting prospects of a breakthrough between the Palestinians and Israelis, Sharon also dealt a blow to hopes of a thaw in relations with Syria with a move to build hundreds more homes in the Golan Heights.
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Official sources said a cross-ministerial commission had ratified a plan to speed up the building of 900 homes which would increase the Jewish population from 10,500 to around 15,000 over three years.
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Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981.
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"The aim is to send an unequivocal message: the Golan is an integral part of Israel and we will continue to develop the settlements," the head of the commission, Agriculture Minister Israel Katz, told public radio.
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The move was a slap in the face to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has repeatedly voiced his willingness to reopen talks with Israel four years after they broke down.
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Syria said the move was designed to "create more tension in the region."
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"Sharon says he is for peace, but his statements are contradicted each time with the implementation of settlement projects in the Palestinian territories and the Golan," an information ministry official told AFP in Damascus.
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France urged Israel to immediately abandon the project, warning that it "could only complicate" any resumption of talks.
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Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced that a soldier had been arrested in connection with a shooting in the Gaza Strip in April that left British peace activist Tom Hurndall brain dead.
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The unnamed soldier had initially claimed that he returned fire at a man armed with a pistol, an army statement said.
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"However, following an intensive investigation by the Military Police of the Southern Command, the soldier admitted to shooting in proximity of an unarmed civilian in order to deter him," the statement added.
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Hurndall was hit in the head and critically wounded by sniper fire in the Rafah refugee camp last April and was subsequently pronounced clinically dead.
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He currently lies in a vegetative state at a London hospital. (Copyright © 2003 Agence France Presse. 12/31/03)
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