Edgy truce stays intact despite Israeli incursions

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The Independent Online

The frail truce that secured the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Christian Arab town of Beit Jala, near Jerusalem, survived into its second day but dangerous pockets of violence continued to flare up elsewhere in the occupied territories on Friday.

The frail truce that secured the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Christian Arab town of Beit Jala, near Jerusalem, survived into its second day but dangerous pockets of violence continued to flare up elsewhere in the occupied territories on Friday.

The Palestinians say that, in the past 11 months, Israeli tanks and bulldozers have knocked down 129 houses in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza, one of the war's wildest and most desperate spots ­ including several more in the early hours during yet another so-called "incursion" into Palestinian-controlled territory.

Six houses were demolished in the latest punitive wrecking operation, which the Israeli army, not for the first time, justified by saying that the buildings were uninhabited and had been used as cover by Palestinian gunmen, who have been shooting and throwing grenades at their military positions on the Gaza-Egypt border.

The information coming from both sides has become even less reliable than it was at the outset. Was Amina al-Shaar, 36, making it up on Friday when she showed reporters the rubble of her own home ­ one of the "empty houses" in Rafah destroyed on Friday ­ and described how she and her eight children were expelled without warning? Elsewhere, the spin doctors fell silent over a mysterious explosion close to the home of Qais Abdel Karim, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At first, there were suspicions that Israel had made another attempt to assassinate a Palestinian political leader, only four days after blowing up Ali Abu Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, at his desk in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Palestinian officials initially said that Abdel Karim – also known as Abu Layla – was the target of an Israeli death squad, although he had not been home. But these allegations died down during the day, and neighbours cast doubt on them. Reports said the only person injured was a Hamas activist.

Despite the continuing incidents ­ which included a claim by Israeli police to have captured a Palestinian cell planning a shooting attack in north Jerusalem ­ plans are in motion to set up talks between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, Israel's Foreign Minister, in another attempt at a ceasefire.

The meeting may take place in Rome as early as next week. Yoram Dori, a spokesman for Mr Peres, said officials from both sides were in contact to arrange the discussions, which would seek to stop the violence and implement the report of the Mitchell commission.

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