- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On a day when Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas failed to persuade militant groups to end attacks on Israelis, Palestinian gunmen yesterday opened fire on a car and killed an Israeli child.

A 7-year-old girl was fatally shot and a 5-year-old girl was seriously wounded in the attack on a highway just inside Israel, close to the West Bank town of Qalqiliya. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came just after Mr. Abbas’ meeting with the militants concluded.

Israel, which had been weighing the release of uprising leader Marwan Barghouti as part of a cease-fire deal, said the latest shootings demonstrate that “our own battle with the terrorists will have to continue,” said Israeli spokesman Zalman Shoval.

The release of Mr. Barghouti, a Fatah leader who is probably the second-most-popular Palestinian figure after Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat, could strengthen a new U.S.-backed peace plan if he were to campaign on its behalf. From prison, where Israel is holding him on murder charges, Mr. Barghouti has been working through envoys to persuade the terrorist group Hamas to sign the truce with Mr. Abbas.

Before the shooting, the prospects of the cease-fire effort had appeared to be gaining some momentum as a result of tremendous Palestinian, Egyptian and international pressure backed up by the prospect of a serious Israeli campaign to wipe out the terrorists. A deal would apparently require Israel to commit to stop killing Hamas leaders.

John Wolf, a U.S. envoy sent here with a team of monitors to supervise the implementation of the “road map” to peace, met with Mr. Abbas yesterday morning.

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a hard-line Hamas leader, said yesterday that the group is considering an end to attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel, but will continue targeting soldiers and Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel has said it will continue its operations against Hamas and has so far reacted with great suspicion to Mr. Abbas’ idea of a long-term cease-fire, fearing terrorists will use the time to regroup, rearm and plan attacks.

Israeli officials are demanding that Mr. Abbas crack down on the groups, but Mr. Abbas has said he will not use force for fear of triggering a civil war. Under the U.S.-backed road map, Mr. Abbas must “arrest, disrupt and restrain” those planning attacks and dismantle “terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is scheduled to travel to Israel on Friday. Speaking en route to Cambodia, he lent support to Israel’s demand for a crackdown.

Ultimately, Hamas and other terrorist organizations “will not only have to stop these terrorist attacks. We have to eliminate their capability to do so,” he said. “We have to come down hard on organizations such as Hamas.”

As part of the road map, which envisions an end to 32 months of violence and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005, Israel must dismantle settlement outposts in the West Bank and halt attacks “undermining trust” with the Palestinians.

But a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem, Israeli helicopter strikes in Gaza and other violence have left the road map’s future in doubt just two weeks after it was introduced by President Bush at a summit in Jordan.

Violence continued in other regions yesterday, with clashes erupting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the Balata and Askar refugee camps in the West Bank.

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