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Arafat Calls for Halt to Terrorist Activity

Arafat called for an end to all “armed activities” in a television address Sunday. “I call for a complete stop to all activities, especially the suicide attacks that we condemn always,” the Palestinian leader said.

Although he did not name any specific militant organizations, Arafat warned that the Palestinian Authority “will punish all planners and executors of terrorism,” and will “hunt down the violators firmly.”

The Palestinian Authority also ordered the closing of a dozen more offices of the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A total of 25 offices have been shut down in the past three days, according to Palestinian officials.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for more than 30 suicide bombings since the Palestinian uprising began 15 months ago.

President Bush, who recently called Middle East peace envoy Anthony Zinni back from the region for consultations, welcomed Arafat’s statement, but looked forward to seeing tangible evidence of his commitment to ending the violence.

“The remarks yesterday by Chairman Arafat were constructive,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “But even more important are whether those words turn into concrete acts.”

Israel was similarly skeptical of Arafat’s address because his earlier condemnations of violence were not followed-up with serious efforts to persecute the perpetrators.

“Don’t make declarations,” Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said. “Start making arrests, start doing what you promised.”

Arafat’s Sunday address was different from earlier statements denouncing violence in that he spoke directly to the Palestinian people at an hour when most could watch him — while they were home celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The Palestinian militant groups responsible for the recent spate of suicide bombings in Israel rebuffed Arafat’s call to end the violence.

“It is an unjust formula that can’t be accepted,” Hamas said in a statement defending the use of suicide bombings as a legitmate way to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

“Nobody has the right to strip the Palestinian people of their natural right to self defense,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Abud Imad Rifai said in Beirut.

Arafat said the suicide bombings were hurting the Palestinian cause by generating international condemnation and giving Sharon a reason to launch attacks on Palestinian territories.

“In this complicated conflict, we must not allow anyone to shake the credibility of the leadership and its decisions,” Arafat said.

The Sharon government had cut off all relations with Arafat’s Palestinian Authority on Thursday, declaring him “no longer relevant” after a Palestinian attack on a bus killed 10 Israelis in the West Bank.

Arafat yesterday called on Israel to “immediately return to the negotiating table.” Sharon said would return if the violence stopped for at least seven days.

Israeli attacks in Gaza

Violence continued the day after Arafat’s television address. Palestinian gunmen fired at Israeli army posts and Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinians Monday. Israeli authorities also detained a top official of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Jerusalem while he was holding a reception for the Muslim holiday.

Israeli forces in Hebron attempting to arrest a member of the Hamas movement, Yacoub Aidkadik, shot and killed him as he tried to flee, the Israeli army said. Hamas said the killing warranted revenge.

Israeli soldiers near Nablus fired on two armed Palestinians in an unmarked car, killing one. Palestinian officials said they were plainclothes policemen.

A 12-year-old boy in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip was killed by Israeli gunfire while he played in an area frequently the site of gun battles between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army said it was investigating the incident.

“I am sorry to say that still the Israelis are escalating their military activities,” Arafat said of today’s killings.

The Israeli army reported that Palestinians fired on their posts in the West Bank and hurled a grenade at a post in the Gaza Strip. The army also said Palestinians fired a mortar bomb at a Jewish settlement in Gaza, but the Palestinian Authority denied the report.

In East Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh, a top official of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was detained by police for two hours as he prepared to meet with foreign diplomats at a reception marking Eid al-Fitr.

According to Israeli public security minister Uzi Landau, the reception was a violation of an Israeli law barring activities of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.

Allowing the PLO function to take place would have “contributed to the loss of our sovereignty in Jerusalem,” Landau said.

Nusseibeh, a PLO moderate who has criticized the violence of the Palestinian intifada, said he “would have welcomed all Israelis” and that the detention was “an over-sensitive reaction.”