U.S. Suspends Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Facing escalating violence and a diplomatic standoff, Zinni said he is suspending talks with Israel and the Palestinians and traveling to surrounding countries to appeal directly to Arab leaders.

Zinni is traveling to Jordan and Egypt to ask leaders to pressure Arafat into clamping down on Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday such action was necessary for peace and security for Israel and statehood for the Palestinians.

Hamas, the militant opposition group opposed to the peace talks, has taken responsibility for a series of recent suicide bombings that killed more than 36 Israelis.

After an attack on an Israeli bus killed 10 people Wednesday, Arafat ordered the closing of all offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including Hamas’ extensive network of schools and health clinics. But the Palestinian president has since halted the closures, saying recently-launched Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets have made it impossible for Palestinian police to move around the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Powell asked Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to explain decision to cut ties with Arafat. Zinni met with the Sharon Thursday.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the U.S. will continue to recognize Arafat.

“Right now our view is that Chairman Arafat is the elected representative of the Palestinian people, and as such we will deal with him,” he said in an NBC interview.

Powell said the U.S. would not curtail its efforts to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The situation is getting worse, not better,” Powell said. “We really cannot give up hope; we cannot walk away from this. The stakes are too high.”

President Bush today demanded Arafat crack down on Palestinian militants.

“The world expects Chairman Arafat to lead, and so do I,” Bush told reporters at the White House. “If you want there to be a peace, you must do everything in your power, you must use your security forces, to bring to justice those who murder to keep peace from happening.”

Israeli attacks in Gaza

Meanwhile, Israel continues military strikes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Israeli forces backed by tanks raided at least four West Bank towns Friday, killing eight Palestinians and arresting up to 50 suspected militants. The army called it the largest night operation against “wanted men” in nearly 15 months of violence.

Palestinian officials condemned the attack.

“These are war crimes committed by Sharon’s government against our people,” Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said of the raid. “Sharon wants to destroy everything.”

The Israeli army said that since Arafat failed to crack down on the militants, their forces would.

F-16 fighter planes dropped at least two bombs on a Palestinian security target in Gaza City. A Reuters reporter on the ground described two explosions that sent black smoke and flames shooting into the sky.

Hospital officials in Gaza said five people were being treated for indirect wounds and shock.

Also in Gaza City, Palestinian security officials said one bomb hit a section of the complex used by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s elite Force 17 unit.

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

Israeli tanks also shelled a Palestinian checkpoint in Ramallah and pushed into territory in southern Gaza. Arafat was in Ramallah at the time.

Pressure on Arafat

Arafat has been under growing 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 responded by arresting more than 100 militants, 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.

However support for militant groups like Hamas is on the rise. 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.

On Friday the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla group urged Palestinians to launch more suicide bomb attacks and defy U.S.-led demands to crack down on “terrorist” militant groups.

“These suicide bombings are the only way to defeat the Zionists,” Hezbollah head Sheik Hassan Nasrallah told thousands at a rally in Beirut. “These suicide operations are the weapon that God gave this nation, and no one can take it away.”