Cease-fire fails to stop bloodshed in Mideast


Associated Press

JERUSALEM – A fragile cease-fire agreement failed to halt a spate of fierce gunbattles today that saw two Palestinians killed and an Israeli policeman critically wounded in a Jerusalem firefight. The 20th day of fighting pushed the death toll past 100.

Shooting broke out before President Clinton announced the truce at a summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, and it raged on afterward. Israelis and Palestinians expressed skepticism that the accord would take hold, and the militant Islamic group Hamas said it was not bound by the deal.

“We will continue fighting,” declared Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, expressing a view many Palestinians appeared to share.

Israel, however, said it would wait to see if the unrest eased in the hours after the agreement was reached in Egypt by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“I hope that from (today) evening we will see the scope of the violence decrease,” said Danny Yatom, security adviser to Barak.

An Israeli official traveling with Barak said the two sides had also reached a secret security deal, a claim the Palestinians denied. The CIA, which has been involved in monitoring security arrangements, would help implement the agreement, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He did not give details.

Shortly after the truce was announced, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, a scene of repeated attacks. A policeman was shot in the chest and critically wounded, and several homes were raked with gunfire.

“There is a lot of shooting now. Our window was hit again,” said a tearful Anna Strekma, whose house was hit in a previous shooting.

Two Israeli tanks, deployed in the neighborhood following an earlier Palestinian attack, returned fire from mounted machine guns, and Israeli security forces quickly evacuated about 200 Jewish residents from their hilltop homes. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the shooting “was the first test of the cease-fire and it was definitely a failure.”

The Israeli military ordered Palestinians to evacuate their homes in nearby neighborhoods, across a small valley, where the gunfire has originated. If the Palestinian gunmen keep shooting at Jewish neighborhoods, “we will fire both from the tanks and from attack helicopters,” Israeli Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan said.

Tensions also were running high in the Gaza Strip, where hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at an Israeli military checkpoint in morning clashes that left 10 injured. During renewed fighting in the afternoon, a Palestinian policeman was killed by a bullet to the chest, hospital doctors said.

Before the truce was declared, Palestinian farmer Farid Nasrara, 28, was killed by Jewish settlers near the West Bank town of Nablus when he was hit in the abdomen by automatic rifle fire, according to witnesses and doctors.

Palestinian witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked. But Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesman, said the farmers first attacked with knives and iron bars, and the settlers fired warning shots in the air before aiming at the Palestinians. Israeli police arrested two settlers.

A third Palestinian died today from a gunshot wound to the head suffered two weeks ago, putting the overall death toll at 102, most of them Palestinians.

Under the terms of the truce, Barak and Arafat were both required to make a public statement denouncing violence – but neither did so in the first few hours after they returned.

“The important thing after the talks yesterday and today is the implementation,” Arafat said upon reaching the Gaza Strip. “We expect that the implementation will be exactly as we agreed upon.”

Barak, speaking while he was still in Sharm el-Sheik, sounded a similar note. “The test will be in the results,” he said.

The three weeks of fighting are the worst since the two sides began peace negotiations in 1993, and in the current climate of bitterness and mistrust, Palestinians and Israelis both predicted that the chances for a genuine cease-fire were slim.

“Clinton, Barak and Arafat are lying to themselves if they think they made a truce,” said Daoud Mughtar, a 58-year-old Palestinian in Bethlehem. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Amos Geuta, the Jewish manager of a bakery, sounded equally pessimistic. “Barak was wasting his time there. In another day or two you will see, it will get worse.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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