TEL AVIV, Israel – Israel on Thursday cut off contact with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, charging that he was "directly responsible" for the latest bloody attacks that killed 10 Israelis and wounded more than 30 others.
The move appeared to throw into question a U.S. effort to arrange a truce to end more than 14 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
A statement released after Israel's Security Cabinet met in Tel Aviv said Arafat is "directly responsible for the series of attacks and therefore is no longer relevant to Israel, and Israel will no longer have any connection with him."
After the meeting, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said there would be no more contact with Arafat or his Palestinian Authority, including sessions of security commanders.
"We have been talking with the Palestinians at all levels for two years," Sheetrit said. "Now it is time for Israel to defend itself."
U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni has spent the last two weeks trying to implement a truce agreed last May. He has set up three meetings of Israeli and Palestinian security commanders, but the sessions degenerated into shouting matches, with each side blaming the other for continuing violence.
The cabinet statement came just hours after Arafat had bowed to long-standing Israeli demands by ordering closed the offices of the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
After two suicide bombing attacks earlier this month in Jerusalem and Haifa, the Israeli Cabinet labeled the Palestinian Authority an "entity that supports terrorism," but allowed contacts to resume a few days later.
On Wednesday, Palestinians ambushed a bus in the West Bank, killing 10 Israelis and wounding more than 30, while in Gaza, two suicide bombers blew themselves up next to Israeli cars, wounding several more Israelis.
Israel retaliated with helicopter and warplane strikes at Palestinian Authority buildings in the West Bank and Gaza, targeting Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah and police buildings in Gaza City. About 40 people were hurt in Gaza, Palestinian officials said. The buildings were evacuated, they said, as Palestinians expected retaliation for the attacks.
Israel has charged that Arafat is responsible for attacks by militants because he has not taken adequate steps to control them.
In a statement after the Wednesday violence, Zinni said the Palestinian Authority and Arafat "must act against these groups and they must act now." He said the infrastructure of the militant groups must be destroyed.