Background: Mideast Maelstrom
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SPENCER MICHELS: This has been one of the bloodiest weeks in the 17-month-long Palestinian uprising, or Intifada. 48 people have been killed since Monday. Nearly 900 Palestinians and 300 Israelis have died since the revolt began in September 2000.
The Intifada took a new turn last Thursday, when Palestinian militants for the first time managed to destroy a heavily armored Israeli tank, killing three Israeli soldiers and wounding another. The Palestinian ambush came a day after three separate Israeli incursions into Gaza towns, which killed five Palestinians.
The next day, Israel responded with air attacks on a Palestinian police compound in the Gaza strip. Two days ago, Palestinian gunmen launched the deadliest attack against Israeli troops in the occupied territories since the Palestinian uprising began. Six Israeli soldiers were killed while they were manning a checkpoint near Ramallah.
Today, Israel unleashed a second wave of fierce bombardments. Israeli forces blew up the Voice of Palestine radio/television headquarters. Helicopter gunships fired missiles for a second successive night at Arafat’s headquarters on the West Bank. His guest house was damaged, but Arafat, who has been under virtual house arrest since December, was not hurt. And Israeli troops entered Gaza City for the first time in 17 months.
Several hours later, Arafat reiterated his call for a cease- fire.
YASSER ARAFAT: I repeat again our complete commitment to what I have declared on the last… December 16 for ceasing fire to protect the peace of the brave, which we had started with my partner, Yitzhak Rabin, the peace of the brave, and we are completely committed to it.
SPENCER MICHELS: Arafat spoke after Palestinian security forces announced they had arrested three suspects in the assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.
YASSER ARAFAT (Translated): Israel does not have the right to judge where to send our prisoners or how to put them on trial. Our prisoners, who were arrested in our territories, will be put on trial in our courts in our territories.
SPENCER MICHELS: In a prime-time speech and press conference to the Israeli nation, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed setting up buffer zones with obstacles to separate Israeli and Palestinian territory.
ARIEL SHARON, Prime Minister, Israel (Translated): We decided to establish buffer zones and to set up obstacles along those border zones. We all want peace. We all are committed to peace. It is my aim to achieve peace, a total peace between ourselves and the Palestinians that will make it possible to live a calm and secure life, for us and for them. But we have to bear in mind there are no miracle solutions, and no one should be misled by miracle solutions proposed by various commentators. A permanent solution can only be achieved after a proper cease- fire.
SPENCER MICHELS: The prime minister also warned today that internal debates within Israel should not be interpreted as weakness. In recent weeks, some Israeli reservists have refused to serve in occupied territories. A Palestinian spokesman said Sharon’s speech offered no hope of ending the fighting, no complete suggestions.
Throughout the week, both sides continued mourning their dead. Israeli soldiers buried victims of violence, including those killed at the Gaza checkpoint. And within the Gaza Strip, more than 40,000 Palestinians marched in funerals today. They chanted “millions of martyrs are marching toward Jerusalem” as armed men fired their weapons into the air.