Arafat told a press conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah, referring to U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has worked with Israelis and Palestinians in attempts to broker a truce, ”I assert our readiness to implement an immediate cease-fire, as we have informed Gen. Zinni.”
“We have informed [Gen. Zinni] we are prepared to immediately begin unconditionally implementing the Tenet plan as it was written, as well as the Mitchell report,” Arafat added.
The Tenet plan, developed by CIA Director George Tenet, outlines a truce between Israelis and Palestinians, while the Mitchell report, named for former Sen. George Mitchell, lays out steps for the resumption of formal peace talks.
Arafat’s announcement comes on the heels of a deadly suicide bombing in the Mediterranean resort town of Netanya that killed at least 20 and wounded 130 in a crowded hotel. Israeli officials blamed Arafat for the attack, which came as celebrants gathered for a Passover feast.
Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Arafat needed to follow up his words with deeds.
“I will see the glimmer of hope ? when Arafat starts to take action,” Gissin told CNN. “He has to take real action, declarations won’t do.”
Palestinian officials have reportedly evacuated buildings in the West Bank for fear of a major Israeli retaliatory strike. Israeli troops also strengthened blockades of some West Bank towns and cut off Palestinian traffic between the northern and southern Gaza Strip.
Earlier in the day, Gissin was quoted as saying Israel “will have the full right to self defense” and will use “appropriate measures” to punish those who carried out the Netanya attack.
New violence flared Thursday when a Palestinian gunman shot and killed three Israelis in a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Nablus.
An Israeli television station said the gunman was holding hostages, but an Israeli army spokeswoman did not confirm that report.