- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2001

JERUSALEM (AFP) Israel's defense minister said yesterday the country would no longer show "restraint" in the face of 11 months of violent protests from its Arab neighbors, adding that a new army incursion into the self-ruled Palestinian city of Hebron was a clear signal of its tougher line.
"This operation signifies that Israel is no longer inclined to show restraint but continues to say to the Palestinians day and night: Come back to the negotiating table," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Israeli television yesterday.
"The Palestinians must know that we will not sit with our arms crossed while they shoot at us or send kamikaze suicide bombers," the minister said.
President Bush, talking to reporters in Texas yesterday, also held the Palestinians responsible for the deadlock that has developed in negotiations to bring the two sides back to the peace table.
Mr. Bush stopped short of criticizing the Israeli incursion, urging only that the Israeli government show moderation even as he blamed the Palestinians for the impasse in ending the bloodshed.
"The Israelis have made it very clear that they will not negotiate under terrorist threat," Mr. Bush said.
"If [the Palestinians] are that interested in peaceful dialogue, they ought to do everything they can to stop the terrorist activity that has accelerated in recent months, and we will see whether or not the will is there," Mr. Bush said.
Israeli tanks stormed parts of divided Hebron early yesterday in retaliation for the serious wounding of an 11-year-old Israeli boy by sniper fire from a hill in the Abu Sneinah area overlooking an isolated Jewish settlement.
The army also dynamited two houses and wounded 12 Palestinians in the raid, which lasted several hours and was one of its deepest into Palestinian territory since the uprising erupted in late September.
Mr. Ben-Eliezer said the army did not intend to occupy Abu Sneinah, but other officials said they would protect Israeli lives at all costs and warned they would prevail in the bloody conflict that has claimed more than 730 lives, most of them Palestinians.
Around 450 Jewish settlers live under heavy army protection in the center of Hebron, surrounded by a Palestinian population of some 130,000.
The Hebron incursion dashed hopes that fresh international diplomatic efforts by Germany would lead to the seven days of calm that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has insisted on before moving ahead with an internationally-backed peace plan.
Palestinian officials were scrambling on the diplomatic front as the violence dampened hopes for a proposed meeting between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres that was thrashed out by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
Israeli television reported late yesterday that Mr. Peres wanted to delay the meeting since the current violence made chances of a deal slim.
In the West Bank, over 20,000 Palestinians attended a Nablus rally of the militant Islamic group Hamas, whose suicide bombers have killed many Israelis in recent months.
"An eye for an eye, a soul for a soul. We want equity in death," said a speaker at the assembly held in a soccer stadium and attended by officials from Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction.
But Palestinian diplomats shelved plans yesterday to push for an immediate U.N. Security Council resolution on the crisis, after a split emerged among world body's nonaligned members following a U.S. threat to veto any action that would legally bind Israel.
Mr. Arafat left Beijing late yesterday after a whistlestop Asian tour to drum up international support. He secured pledges of cooperation from Chinese President Jiang Zemin and other regional leaders.


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