Palestinian Radicals Reject Arafat's Call for Cease-Fire
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Many Palestinian militants are in jail or in hiding, but those still speaking out said they were disappointed with Yasser Arafat's call for an end to attacks against Israel, and two groups pointedly rejected his demand.
Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine issued a joint statement saying they would not abide by Arafat's order, and several attacks took place Monday and Tuesday.
Four Israelis were wounded in three shooting attacks in the West Bank and a roadside bomb went off near Nablus, although it caused no casualties.
Nine suspected Palestinian militants were arrested in the Gaza Strip on Monday after Arafat's speech Sunday, according to Israel radio. However, it was hard to judge whether the Palestinian forces were planning a major crackdown. Tuesday was the third and final day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when activity in Palestinian areas grinds to a halt.
Arafat's speech was "very bad, it indicated defeat," said Abdel Halim Izzedine, an Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin in the northern West Bank. "To declare that our martyrs are not martyrs and they did a bad thing, this we cannot accept," he said, referring to Arafat's declaration that his regime has always denounced suicide bomb attacks.
Said Siam, a Hamas official, said he understood the pressure Arafat is under, but "the Palestinian people will not accept death without self-defense."
Islamic Jihad and Hamas have claimed responsibility for more than 30 suicide bombings since Mideast violence erupted almost 15 months ago. They include the deadliest attacks against Israeli targets.
Arafat said Palestinian attacks play into the hands of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has retaliated with airstrikes against Palestinian security installations, and with raids that include the arrests of suspected militants.
Israel says such actions are necessary because Arafat hasn't acted against the militants. The United States and the European Union also have been pressing Arafat to act.
While Hamas rejected Arafat's demand, at least one Hamas figure hinted that attacks could be put on hold if they were seen as harming the Palestinian cause.
"The operations are not the goal, they're a tool we use," said Hassan Youssef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank. "If they help us achieve our goals we will use them, but if they are against our interests we will stop."
Meanwhile, exiled members of the groups in neighboring Lebanon said they rejected Arafat's call for a cease-fire.
"As long as there's an [Israeli] occupation, as long as there are criminal practices by the enemy, as long as houses are being destroyed and sanctities being violated, the choice of the Palestinian people remains that of resistance," said Abu Imad Rifai, a Beirut spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
In the Palestinian territories, many of the usual spokesmen for the militant groups could not be contacted, and others were reticent to speak out.
That marks a significant change. In the past, leaders for both groups were quick to denounce attempts by the Palestinian Authority to bring about a cease-fire and have boasted about their intentions to carry out future attacks.
As part of the crackdown, the Palestinian Authority has shut down in recent days at least 20 community centers and two newspaper offices belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The gates of one youth center in Beach refugee camp in the Gaza Strip were bolted shut, spray-painted in red on a wall: Closed by order of the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority also said it has arrested 180 militants over the past two weeks, though Israeli officials say the action is insufficient to end the attacks.
Several weeks ago, Israel handed to the Palestinians a list of 33 militants it wanted arrested. Palestinians said they had 17 in custody shortly afterward. But they have not arrested any more, citing the Israeli military strikes against Palestinian security targets. Israel said the actions were retaliation for Palestinian attacks.