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Israel Security Cabinet Severs Contact With Arafat

A statement released by the Israeli government said Arafat is “directly responsible for the series of attacks and therefore is no longer relevant to Israel, and Israel will no longer have any connection with him.”

After an emergency meeting, the Israeli security cabinet said Israel would have no further contact with Arafat or members of his Palestinian Authority.

“Chairman Arafat has made himself irrelevant as far as Israel is concerned,” the document said. It also warned of a stepped-up military campaign to arrest Palestinian militants and confiscate weapons.

The move followed a day of violent attacks on both Israeli and Palestinian targets, despite a call from U.S. Envoy Anthony Zinni for a 48-hour period of calm.

It also came despite Arafat’s vow just hours earlier to shut down institutions belonging to the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Reacting to the security cabinet’s statement, Yassir Abed Rabbo, the minister of information for the Palestinian Authority, warned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was preparing “a comprehensive war” against the Palestinian Authority in order to destroy it.

“We should not have any illusions about Sharon’s intentions,” Abed Rabbo said. “He is deceiving the whole world and the American administration about what he is doing.”

A day of violence

The bus attack occurred outside the Jewish settlement of Immanuel in the West Bank early Wednesday. An explosion ripped the vehicle apart, then Palestinian gunmen in the surrounding hills opened fire as passengers tried to escape.

At almost the same time, two suicide bombers wounded three people outside another settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said the bus assault was carried out by members of “the Martyr Mahmoud Abu Hanoud group,” a reference to a Hamas leader killed by Israeli helicopter gunships on Nov. 23.

Hours after the attack, Israeli warplanes hit a Palestinian security installation, an airport in the West Bank city of Nablus and a Palestinian security compound in Gaza City.

Before dawn Thursday, Israeli tanks shelled a Palestinian checkpoint in Ramallah and pushed into a Palestinian area in southern Gaza. Arafat was in Ramallah at the time.

Pressure on Arafat

Arafat has been under tremendous pressure to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad since two Hamas suicide bombers killed themselves and 26 others in Jerusalem earlier this month.

Palestinian officials say they have arrested more than 100 members of the groups, including 17 men on a list of 33 militants Israel has demanded be arrested. But the Israeli government and the Bush administration say those steps are not enough.

In a statement before Israel severed ties with Arafat, Zinni urged the Palestinian leader to arrest those responsible and “to destroy the infrastructure of the terror organizations that support them.

“Coexistence with these organizations or acquiescence in their activities is simply not acceptable,” Zinni said.

After the attacks Wednesday night, Arafat ordered the closing of all offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including Hamas’ extensive network of schools and health clinics.

However, Arafat has said that without a cessation of bombing and an easing of the blockade on Palestinian areas, he cannot hope to exert control over all Palestinian militants.

Arafat is also facing pressure from the Palestinian community. Surveys of Palestinians suggest that Hamas and other Islamist groups have become more popular during the 14-month intifada than Arafat’s Fatah organization.

Hamas also rejects the Oslo Accords of 1993 which resulted in mutual recognition and authorization of the Palestinian Authority as the governing entity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.