- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israel yesterday threatened retaliation for a Palestinian ambush that killed an Israeli girl and wounded her sister, just minutes after the Palestinian prime minister finished meeting with leaders of militant groups in a failed effort to persuade them to stop attacks.

As part of a cease-fire package, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas offered the terrorist Hamas group a political role in his government, a participant in the talks said, but no agreement was reached.

Two groups — the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, linked to Mr. Abbas’ mainstream Fatah movement, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmed Jibril — claimed responsibility for the shooting late Tuesday.

The shooting threatened to ignite another round of attacks and retaliation and further endanger the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell plans to travel to the region over the weekend for high-level talks aimed at salvaging the plan.

“The Palestinian Authority is talking with everybody, is talking with the Hamas, is talking with the Americans, talking and talking and doing nothing in order to stop this bloodshed,” Israeli spokesman Avi Pazner said yesterday. “If the Palestinian Authority continues to do nothing, we will take all appropriate action to make this bloodshed stop.”

The shooting took place just inside Israel, close to the West Bank town of Qalqiliya. The military said gunmen used a water passage to get around a protective wall between the West Bank and a main north-south highway and opened fire on the car, carrying a family of eight. The assailant then escaped back into the town.

A 7-year-old girl, Noam Leibowitz, was killed and her 5-year-old sister was seriously wounded. Two other family members, a child and grandfather, were slightly wounded, the military and rescue workers said.

The military imposed a curfew on Qalqiliya and searched for the gunmen.

The week after the June 4 introduction of the road map plan for an end to bloodshed and creation of a Palestinian state by 2005 was marred by Israeli air strikes and a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem, killing and wounding scores on both sides.

A failed helicopter strike last week targeted Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader. Hamed Haboush, 45, a bystander wounded during the attack, died yesterday. He was the fourth person killed by the strike.

Until the highway ambush, however, there had been four days of relative calm, and the outline of a truce deal was taking shape in the intensive talks in Gaza. But there was no guarantee that either the terrorists or Israel would agree to the elements.

A key plank would be an Israeli pledge to stop killing terrorist leaders, sources close to the talks said. Hamas and other violent groups also demanded that Israel release thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

In exchange, the militants would declare a temporary cease-fire. Israelis charge that only would allow terrorists to regroup and rearm.

Israel has been demanding that a cease-fire be the first step of a crackdown to dismantle the groups. Israel TV reported Tuesday that Israel would accept a cease-fire of three to six weeks. Israel officials were not available comment.

Mr. Abbas says he will not order a crackdown and wants a voluntary cease-fire.

After three hours of talks Tuesday night in Gaza between Mr. Abbas and terrorist leaders, Ismail Abu Shanab of Hamas said the group’s officials were “still discussing this subject within the movement and have not yet made a final decision.”

Also yesterday, Palestinians said Israeli soldiers in a watchtower opened fire on a car from the Palestinian cellular-phone company in Gaza, wounding three workers, two seriously. The military had no immediate comment.

Overnight, Israeli forces blew up the home of a fugitive member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade near the West Bank town of Nablus.

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