- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon aborted a military attack on a village near Bethlehem early yesterday following public remarks by President Bush and a last-minute appeal from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, according to Israeli radio.
It marks the second time this week that Mr. Sharon has moderated his policies under pressure from Mr. Peres, who has hinted he is close to pulling his Labor Party out of the governing national unity coalition.
In a new attack, however, Israeli undercover troops fatally shot a Palestinian militia leader in an ambush in Hebron. Israel has assassinated more than 50 Palestinians in recent months, but usually with rockets or remote-controlled devices.
Israel sent troops and armored vehicles into five villages between Jerusalem and Bethlehem after midnight yesterday after Palestinian gunmen had fired for five hours at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem from the adjacent Palestinian village of Bait Jalla.
But what began like a repeat of the previous night's attack on Palestinian Authority buildings in the town of Jenin ended abruptly when the forces withdrew from the villages less than half an hour after entering them.
Israeli radio said Mr. Sharon had called off the operation because of a last-minute request by Mr. Peres, who earlier in the week prevailed on the prime minister to allow him to reopen cease-fire talks with the Palestinians.
Agence France-Presse quoted a senior political leader saying plans to attack Beit Jalla were aborted after the United States condemned the previous night's raid in Jenin as "provocative."
Israeli radio said Mr. Peres invoked the American criticism in arguing that an incursion would be politically damaging.
Sharon aides said that there had been no direct American request to refrain from military action and that Israeli troops were still prepared to enter Bait Jalla if the Palestinians resumed firing on Gilo.
Mr. Sharon, addressing a conference of police officers in Jerusalem earlier on Tuesday, had pledged that the firing on Gilo "will not continue."
During the day, Israeli troops took over three buildings at the edge of Bait Jalla, a step that seemed to presage a broader operation. Security sources said plans had been drawn up during the day for sending ground forces into Bait Jalla but that "it was decided to give the Palestinian Authority another chance to calm things down."
Mr. Bush on Tuesday had called for an end to the cycle of violence. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "must clamp down on the suicide bombers and the Israelis must show restraint," he said.
Commenting on the situation for the third successive day yesterday, Mr. Bush again called for restraint on both sides.
"The parties must make up their mind that peace is preferable to war," he said in Albuquerque, N.M. "Mr. Arafat must do everything in his power to discourage the suicide bombings and the Israelis must be restrained in their response."
Mr. Peres, meanwhile, has been urging Mr. Sharon to drop his insistence that all violence must end before there can be substantive talks with the Palestinians.
Political analyst Hanan Kristal was quoted earlier in the week saying Mr. Sharon had agreed to permit new talks on the limited issue of a cease-fire only after becoming convinced that Mr. Peres would pull his party out of the coalition.
The Palestinian militia leader slain yesterday was Emad Abu Sneineh, 25, who died in a burst of gunfire as he got out of a car near his home. Nabil Abu Sneineh, a relative, told the Associated Press that the shots were fired by undercover troops from a parked blue-and-white truck, which then drove into the Israeli-controlled sector of the city.
Israeli security officials would not comment by name but privately told AP that Mr. Sneineh was killed by elite Israeli forces because he had been heavily involved in shooting attacks on Israelis in Hebron. Mr. Sneineh was a local leader of Tanzim, a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

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