- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

JERUSALEM (AP) Palestinian security officials arrested two Islamic Jihad militants yesterday, sources said, a day after an attack near a Jewish settlement. The arrests came as Israel signaled it may be ready to discuss resuming the sidelined peace process.
In a second incident yesterday, suspected militants riddled an armored Israeli bus with bullets, police said. No one was injured in the assault near the West Bank city of Ramallah, however, and the circumstances of the shooting were not immediately clear.
In Gaza City, the two Islamic Jihad men were detained and their weapons confiscated, Palestinian security sources said, without divulging additional details.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said yesterday the recent Palestinian crackdown on anti-Israeli groups could help peace talks resume as outlined by an international commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
Israel has called repeatedly for a complete cessation of violence before negotiations can restart.
"If the Palestinians continue at the pace they are going now, meaning making the arrests and they start thwarting [attacks], I think that we can start implementing Mitchell," Mr. Ben-Eliezer told Channel 2 TV. He also said the Palestinians are preparing suicide attackers and car bombings as part of "an infrastructure for war," Israeli media reported.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called for an end to attacks against Israel two weeks ago, and since then, there has been a sharp decline in violence. The Palestinian security forces have arrested some suspected militants, but the Israelis have demanded that Mr. Arafat take even stronger action.
In response to Mr. Arafat's call, the militant group Hamas announced it was suspending suicide attacks in Israel but would continue targeting Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza. The smaller Islamic Jihad did not say it would stop attacks and said in a statement released in Beirut that it remained committed to "holy war and resistance."
In one of the most serious incidents in the past two weeks, a pair of Islamic Jihad militants attempted to carry out an attack Friday near the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in the central Gaza Strip.
The two, carrying anti-tank missiles, a Kalashnikov assault rifle and ammunition, fired on Israeli soldiers on patrol in the area, the Israeli army said. Soldiers returned fire, killing one assailant and sending the other fleeing.
With violence declining, Israel said Friday it was lifting a blockade of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem. But soldiers remained yesterday at the checkpoints on the edge of the town, examining the identity documents of Palestinians seeking to enter or leave the town.
The Palestinian Cabinet met Friday night and called on the United States to send its special mediator, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, back to the region as soon as possible to oversee an eventual resumption of direct peace talks.
Israel TV's Channel 2 said Gen. Zinni was expected to return to the Middle East next week if there was no major outburst of violence.

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