A Muslim holiday reception in occupied east Jerusalem at which a senior British diplomat was a guest was cancelled by police before it began yesterday on the grounds that an Israeli minister believed it constituted "terrorist activity".
The host, Sari Nusseibeh, a moderate pro-peace Palestinian politician, was detained for several hours after one of Ariel Sharon's confidants – Uzi Landau, the Public Security minister – sent police to ban the event. Mr Nusseibeh's detention, which drew a rare rebuke from the United States, came as Israel's security forces killed an Islamic militant, a policeman and a child of 12 – less than 24 hours after Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, made his strongest call to his people to stop attacking Israelis.
Palestinian officials reacted angrily to the killings and detention, saying they were evidence that Mr Sharon, the Prime Minister, who has declared Mr Arafat to be "irrelevant", was trying to intensify the 15-month conflict. By nightfall, Palestinian militants had delivered their response, injuring two Israelis on the West Bank in shooting attacks.
The detention of Mr Nusseibeh, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's most senior official in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem, came as he was about to host a party for some 150 invited guests, including the British consul-general, Geoffrey Adams, and other European diplomats. The event was to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
Mr Landau defended the action, saying receptions held by the PLO were "terror- related" or "terror activities". Five other Palestinians were also detained for questioning, and released after several hours. The move reinforced the belief among Mr Sharon's critics – from the Arab world to the Israeli left – that he is stoking the conflict to unravel the Oslo agreements, consolidate Israel's military control over the occupied territories and confine the Palestinians to the pockets of land they hold.
The arrest was one of a number of moves against the Palestinian official presence in Jerusalem since the death in May of Faisal Husseini, the PLO's influential representative in the city. Keen to tighten control over the entire metropolitan area, the Israeli authorities have closed the PLO's headquarters, pushed out Palestinian associations and harassed officials.
The Palestinians were still fuming over the detention of Mr Nusseibeh when it was revealed that Israeli soldiers had shot dead a suspected member of the military wing of Hamas, Yacoub Dakidak, 28, at his home in Hebron. Near Nablus, Israeli soldiers fired at two Palestinian policemen in civilian clothes in an unmarked car, killing one and wounding the other. In Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, soldiers shot and killed a 12-year-old boy. The Israeli military said it was checking the report.
Significant elements in Palestinian militant circles, including Hamas, have repeatedly criticised Mr Arafat's previous ceasefire orders on the grounds that they were made under pressure from the United States and secured nothing in return. Such calls have led to a short-term drop in violence, but not an end.
The killing of Mr Dakidak increased the likelihood that the latest speech would make little difference. The Israeli army said Mr Dakidak, whom it accuses of dispatching suicide bombers, was shot after fleeing arrest. But Hamas officials said the killing was an assassination.Reuse content