- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

TEL AVIV - Israel will ask the U.N. Security Council today to condemn a weekend suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and press Palestinians to act against militants, marking a rare diplomatic offensive in the international forum by the Jewish state, officials said.

In Israel yesterday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he had stepped up military measures against terrorists in response to the attack at a seaside nightclub that killed four, and would condition future peace talks with the Palestinians on concrete steps to fight terrorism.

“There will not be any diplomatic progress, I repeat, no diplomatic progress, until the Palestinians take vigorous action to wipe out the terror groups and their infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority’s territory,” Mr. Sharon said.

But observers noted that Israel’s military response was much milder than in the past, when Israel routinely would destroy the homes of suicide bombers and conduct strikes at Palestinian militants. Instead, Israel wants to apply diplomatic pressure to get Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to initiate his own crackdown.

The U.N. foray is a departure for Israel, which is more accustomed to being isolated on Middle East security issues. It hopes to get a declaration condemning the attack in an “unequivocal” manner, while pressing Mr. Abbas to take “tangible” steps, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

“Usually, we’re used to playing defense at the U.N.,” said Mr. Regev, who added that a successful outcome would mark a shift in Israel’s fortunes at the world body.

A U.N. Security Council resolution late last year calling on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon emboldened Israeli diplomats to press council members to support a presidential statement on terrorism, he said.

Israeli officials also were heartened when the U.N. General Assembly held a special debate last month to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman described it to The Washington Times as “a very, very significant step” in his country’s relationship with the United Nations.

“Ultimately, we see Abbas as an ally, and we want to encourage him to do the right thing, and if the U.N. approves this declaration, that will encourage him,” Mr. Regev said.

A former diplomat said international support for Mr. Sharon’s disengagement plan had provided a strong “tail wind” for Israel to take the initiative at the United Nations.

But Israel also placed direct pressure on the Palestinians by suspending the meetings of a joint committee appointed to select 400 Palestinian prisoners for release from Israeli jails, the Ha’aretz newspaper reported.

At a weekly Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr. Sharon said the order for the nightclub attack originated from an Islamic Jihad office in Syria. The organization published a videotape of the bomber, even though its spokesmen in Gaza continued to deny involvement in the attack.

While tracing the planning of the attack to Syria, Israel’s prime minister said the Palestinians also must take responsibility. But his threat to halt political negotiations triggered a chilly response from Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

“If Israel wants to stop contacts with the Palestinians, it is free to do that. That is their business,” Mr. Qureia said. “What are they expecting of us in such a situation? That we should cry?”

Even though Mr. Sharon said Israel had stepped up military operations in response to the latest attack, observers said the retaliation after previous incidents had been broader and much more forceful.

“If the attack which occurred two nights ago was carried out in another period … of the military conflict with the Palestinians, Israel’s response would have been automatic,” wrote Ze’ev Schiff, the military affairs commentator for Ha’aretz. “Now the conclusion is different.”

An Israeli official said holding off on a military response to the bombing, which wounded about 50, would give Mr. Abbas an opportunity to show the world he is capable of fighting terrorism.

“We believe that it is important to give the [Palestinian Authority] the possibility now, after this tragedy, to demonstrate it is serious when they say they want to end terrorism,” said Avi Pazner, a spokesman for the prime minister.

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