Palestinian Militants Renounce Truce
The Islamic Jihad said Thursday it would no longer abide by its agreement not to attack inside Israel. In a statement, the group said it would “maintain our right to continue the jihad and resistance until the last drop of blood in our veins.”
The announcement came after Israeli bulldozers destroyed dozens of buildings in the Gaza Strip Rafah refugee camp in retaliation for an attack that killed four Israeli soldiers.
On Wednesday, two assailants dressed in Palestinian police uniforms, shot and killed four members of the Israeli Army’s Desert Reconnaissance Battalion. It was the first attack against Israel since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s December 16 call for a halt to violence.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack saying it was in retaliation to Israel’s seizure of an arms shipment last week. Hamas said its cease-fire did not preclude attacks against Israeli targets in the occupied Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Israel said the assailants lived in the Rafah refugee camp and that the demolished buildings were cover for Palestinian gunmen and smugglers and were often used to receive weapons. Palestinians said the structures were inhabited by civilians and that hundreds of people are now homeless.
The U.S. State Department criticized the destruction, saying it would not help end violence.
Yasser Arafat condemned Wednesday’s attack against the Israeli outpost, but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Palestinian leader was personally responsible for it.
Arafat’s position was further weakened Wednesday night when six United States congressmen canceled a meeting with him. Members of the diplomatic mission cited an American intelligence briefing that they said showed Arafat was personally responsible for the attempt to smuggle weapons and explosives aboard the ship Karine A.
Representative Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), said he had seen proof that Arafat was responsible.
“These guys are nailed,” he said. “Let me tell you the level it rises to: 100 percent certainty that Arafat was personally involved in the ordering of the procurement of the ship and the weapons, 100 percent certainty that it was intended for the Palestinian Authority.”
The Israeli navy seized the Karine A in the Red Sea some 300 miles from Israel’s port Eilat last week. It contained Katyusha rocket launchers, antitank missiles, mines and 3,400 pounds of C-4 explosive, according to Israeli officials.
President Bush said this morning that he was beginning to suspect that the weapons aboard the ship were intended to “promote terror.
“I want to make sure that the evidence is definitive, but I’m, like many, beginning to suspect that those arms were headed in the wrong — to promote terror. And terror will never enable us to achieve peace in the Middle East,” he told reporters.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged Arafat to make a thorough accounting of Palestinian involvement in the smuggling.
“The information we are receiving and developing on our own make it clear that there are linkages to the Palestinian Authority,” Powell told reporters. “I have not seen information that yet links it directly to Chairman Arafat.”
In an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting Center, Secretary Powell said he told Arafat that “more evidence will be forthcoming” and that “a heavy burden rests on Mr. Arafat to deal with these charges and to deal with the evidence as it comes forward.”
Arafat has continually denied all connections to the weapons ship, saying the seizure was staged by the Israelis to sabotage the peace process.
“As you can see, they make up stories,” Arafat said during an appearance in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Now it’s about a ship.”
The Palestinian Authority has said it is investigating the smuggling operation and will punish Palestinians involved.
Since Arafat called for an end to the attacks, at least 20 Palestinians have been killed: 13 in clashes with Israeli soldiers, and 7 in clashes with the Palestinian police. On Dec. 20, Israeli soldiers killed six Palestinians whom the army says were preparing to attack Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.