Israel Eases Restrictions on Palestinians
JERUSALEM – As a fragile cease-fire held, Israel on Wednesday began easing travel and other restrictions on Palestinians that were imposed after last week's suicide bombing outside a Tel Aviv disco.
About 2,000 Palestinian workers were allowed to enter an Israeli industrial zone inside the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and several food trucks were seen entering the territories. In the West Bank, though, Palestinian communities remained sealed off from each other.
Though fighting has cooled since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called a cease-fire Saturday, it hasn't stopped entirely. Arafat's call staved off Israeli retaliation for the Tel Aviv suicide attack, which killed 21 people, including the bomber.
Late Tuesday, a 5-month-old Israeli boy, Yehuda Shoham, was critically injured when Palestinians threw rocks at a car in the West Bank, according to Jewish settlers, Yehuda's relatives and the Israeli military.
The baby suffered severe brain damage, according to Dr. Karman Goitein, head of intensive care at Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital.
"The family, as you can imagine, is devastated and hopes that he recovers and also [is] angry because this is happening all the time," said Eve Harrow, Yehuda's great-aunt.
Settlers demonstrating Wednesday morning at the site where the car was struck burned a Palestinian greenhouse and two buildings, police said. Settlers and Palestinians threw rocks at each other. One Israeli and seven Palestinians were injured, according to Israel radio.
Also Wednesday, Palestinians were outraged by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's reference to Arafat as a "murderer" and "pathological liar." Sharon made the comments in an interview on the Russian TV channel NTV that was broadcast by Israeli TV.
Most of those killed in the disco bombing were Russian immigrants and the outraged community has complained Sharon has not retaliated.
In his strongest attack on Arafat since taking office in March, Sharon complained Arafat is welcomed around the world "with a red carpet," when instead of acting like a head of state, "he behaves as the head of terrorists and murderers."
"I think the world knows who is the murderer," said Ahmed Qureia, the Palestinian parliament speaker. "Arafat is not the murderer. Arafat is the leader of his people."
Palestinian Cabinet minister Nabil Shaath said Sharon should respect Arafat. Sharon's remarks show that "he doesn't have the attitude befitting a person who is looking for peacemaking," he said.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres agreed that Arafat could be described as a terrorist, but recommended against using such terms. "The words create a horrible psychological situation," he told Israel radio. "We have to restrain ourselves."
The Israeli Defense Ministry said that borders would be opened to allow Palestinians to return home from Egypt and Jordan, raw materials would be allowed into and out of the Palestinian territories and Palestinian workers could return to their jobs in an industrial zone next to the Erez crossing point.
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer eased the restrictions because of a "significant reduction in the number of attacks," according to a statement. However, the strict closure confining Palestinians to their towns is still in effect, spokesman Maj. Peter Lerner said.
Palestinian security commanders Maj. Gen. Abdel Razek al-Majaidah and Maj. Gen. Amin el-Hindi have traveled to trouble spots in the southern Gaza Strip to consult local officers about enforcing the cease-fire.
El-Hindi said "all the Palestinian people respect the decision" to stop firing. It was the first time in four months that Israel had allowed senior security commanders to visit the southern part of the territory.
The United States is moving back to center stage with the visit of CIA chief George Tenet, after the administration of President Bush showed initial reluctance to become deeply involved in the conflict.
Washington said Tenet was heading to the region Wednesday but, citing security concerns, wouldn't say where he would go or who he would meet with. Palestinian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would arrive early Thursday and meet separately with the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
In more than eight months of fighting, 484 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and 108 on the Israeli side.