Israel, Palestinians Seek to Restore Truce (AP) By MARK LAVIE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 1:54 AM)
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JERUSALEM - Top Israeli and Palestinian security officials discussed
restoring calm after a Palestinian girl was killed by gunfire and
militants retaliated with mortar shelling of Jewish settlements,
breaking an informal cease-fire that had brought rare calm to an area
torn by four years of bloodshed.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and senior Palestinian security
adviser Mohammed Dahlan met late Monday at a hotel north of Tel Aviv.
The planned agenda included measures to take advantage of the
reduction in violence, like handing over West Bank towns to
But Monday´s violence overshadowed the meeting, posing the first test
of an informal truce worked out by the new Palestinian leader,
Mahmoud Abbas, in talks with militant groups.
Ten-year-old Norhan Deeb was standing in her schoolyard in the Rafah
refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border when she was hit in the head by
a bullet. She died a few minutes later in a hospital, doctors said.
Palestinian witnesses said the gunfire came from Israeli forces on
the border, but the Israeli military said soldiers did not open fire
in that part of Rafah, though there were two gunfire incidents
"According to our examination, the girl apparently was not shot by
Israeli army gunfire," the military spokesman´s office said. Security
officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed Palestinians
firing in the air to celebrate their return from the Hajj pilgrimage
to Mecca, but residents denied that.
Retaliation was swift. Palestinian militants fired at least 10 mortar
shells at nearby Jewish settlements, damaging a building. No one was
A statement issued by Hamas threatened further retaliation "if the
crimes continue," implying that it would hold its fire if there is no
That was the understanding of the Israeli military - that Hamas was
trying to set a pattern of retaliation whenever it perceived an
Israeli act of violence, all within the framework of a cease-fire.
Mofaz told Dahlan that such an understanding was unacceptable,
according to Israeli security officials, speaking on condition of
Mofaz said the Palestinian Authority must stop the mortar fire,
regardless of the explanation, and Palestinian police must progress
from deployment to action to stop attacks. He said their performance
in Gaza would influence the extent to which Israel would hand over
responsibility in the West Bank, according to the officials. Over the
past 10 days, Palestinian police have deployed through Gaza for the
first time in several years.
Dahlan asked Israel to reopen border crossings that were closed after
recent Palestinian attacks, the officials said. Mofaz responded that
Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt would be reopened on Tuesday.
It was closed Dec. 12 after Palestinian militants tunneled under the
Israeli army post there and blew it up, killing five soldiers.
However, Mofaz said the vital Karni point, the main crossing for food
and other goods in and out of Gaza, would remain closed until the
Palestinians improve security measures there. Six Israelis were
killed in a Palestinian bombing and shooting attack at the crossing
on Jan. 13, and it has been closed ever since. Also, he said, the
Erez crossing in northern Gaza would not be reopened now.
The officials said Mofaz expressed willingness to free several
hundred Palestinian prisoners in the framework of easing tensions. In
public statements, Palestinians have demanded freedom for all 7,000
prisoners Israel is holding. Israel has consistently refused to
release Palestinians held for serious attacks against Israelis.
Pushed aside because of the day of violence was the issue of
transferring control of West Bank towns to the Palestinians. Israeli
officials said no moves would be made before a Thursday meeting of
Israel´s Security Cabinet, made up of senior ministers.
Palestinians originally expected to receive control of at least one
or two of the five towns on the list by Wednesday. The Israeli
officials said agreement was shaping up on a staged handover,
starting with Ramallah - where Abbas´ government has its
headquarters - and Qalqiliya, on the line between the West Bank and
Other towns to be handed over are Jericho, Tulkarem and Bethlehem.
The main centers of militant activity - Nablus, Jenin and Hebron -
are to remain under Israeli military control. (Copyright 2005
Associated Press. 02/01/05)
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