Israel’s Sharon repeats truce call


JERUSALEM, Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on the Palestinians to end their eight-month-old revolt despite two Palestinian suicide bombings in the Gaza Strip and central Israel on Friday.

“I repeat a call and hope that the head of the Palestinian Authority (Yasser Arafat) and the Palestinian Authority will finally instruct and call for a cease-fire,” Sharon said at a news conference. “Of course in any case in which we are in danger we won’t sit with our hands tied. But our tendency is, even if we must wait a few more days, to give the Palestinian Authority the possibility of calling a cease-fire,” he said.

Israeli police said two people died and more than 40 were wounded when a car exploded near a public bus in the central Israeli town of Hadera on Friday. Both dead were apparently the attackers.

A suicide truck bomber blew himself up on Friday near an Israeli army outpost in the Gaza Strip, killing only himself.

Sharon first made a call for a cease-fire on Tuesday night following the release of a U.S.-led inquiry into the violence which urged both sides to end hostilities.

The Palestinians said Sharon’s announcement at the time was a propaganda ploy.

On Friday, a senior aide to Arafat said Israel must abide by the report of a five-member committee under former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and a joint proposal by neighboring Arab states Egypt and Jordan to end hostilities.

“We repeat our call to find a mechanism to implement Mitchell’s report and the Jordanian-Egyptian initiative,” Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters. “This is the only political path that could lead to stability in the region.”

Palestinians maintain the call for a cease-fire must be accompanied by a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza, where they seek to build a state, and a withdrawal of Israeli troops to positions they held before the recent fighting broke out.

The Mitchell report calls for an end to violence first, followed by a series of confidence-building steps which include a total freeze on settlements to clear the way for peace talks.

Israel has said it accepts the Mitchell report in full and has indicated it is willing to find a solution to its stance on settlements which comes at a later stage in the time-line for the report’s implementation.

Sharon has said he will not build new settlements or confiscate more land for settlement building, but has said he will uphold his coalition agreement which calls for the government to assist the “natural growth of settlements”.

Under interim peace deals, the fate of Israel’s 145-odd Jewish settlements is to be resolved in negotiations for a final peace treaty.

Palestinian militants have mounted a campaign against Israeli targets inside Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since the Palestinian uprising erupted in late September after peace talks reached a standstill.

“We know one thing clearly — that the Palestinian Authority stands behind terror activities, doesn’t prevent terror activity and unfortunately Arafat…has not called for cease-fire until now,” Sharon said.