Israel calls up reserves after suicide bombing

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The Independent Online

The month-long violence that has killed 120 Palestinians and eight Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza took an ominous turn yesterday when a24-year-old Arab blew himself up at an Israeli checkpoint near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. One soldier was slightly wounded.

The month-long violence that has killed 120 Palestinians and eight Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza took an ominous turn yesterday when a24-year-old Arab blew himself up at an Israeli checkpoint near a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip. One soldier was slightly wounded.

The apparent suicide bombing reinforced increasingly strident Israeli warnings of such attacks, inside Israel as well as in the occupied territories. Armed police and troops were patrolling the main streets of Jewish towns last night. In Jerusalem they were checking the papers of Arabs from the eastern side of the city who were still going to work for Israeli employers. For the first time since the mayhem erupted on 28 September, Israel is calling up reserve army units to take up the strain.

The Gaza bomber, identified as Nabil al-Arair, died after detonating an explosive-laden bicycle. Relatives confirmed that he was a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group, which yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the assassination of its leader, Fathi Shqaqi, by Israeli agents in Malta. "We are very proud of what he has done," said a cousin, Abdel-Rahim al-Arair.

Both Jihad and the larger Hamas movement have vowed to continue their "armed struggle" for a Muslim state in the whole of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Israeli military commander in Gaza, Major-General Yomtov Samiya, blamed Yasser Arafat for doing nothing to restrain them. The Palestinian Authority released dozens of radical Islamic prisoners two weeks ago. Some have since been rearrested but Israel claims that others who masterminded bombings in the past are still at large.

Yosi Ginossar, a former deputy director of the Shin Bet internal security service, delivered a personal message on Tuesday night from the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to Mr Arafat and the head of his preventive security service, Mohammed Dahlan. It is said to have contained a stern warning that Israel would hit back at Palestinian institutions if terror returned to Israeli streets after a two-year gap.

Tuesday's talks opened a door for meetings between senior serving officers in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday, although the Israelis complain the level of security coordination remains lower than before the turmoil. Sporadic clashes continued yesterday but on a smaller scale than last week.

On the diplomatic front, the United States President, Bill Clinton, is striving to convene yet another Barak-Arafat summit, despite the failure of the Sharm el-Sheikh gathering to produce the promised ceasefire. Mr Arafat has said he is willing to go to Washington but Mr Barak insists the Palestinians have to end the violence first.

Meanwhile, dissension was bubbling again among Israel's Arab minority, 11 of whom were killed in clashes with police almost a month ago. The northern district police chief, Commander Alik Ron, reopened wounds by announcing that he would "settle accounts" by prosecuting those who rioted in solidarity with their Palestinian brethren. he said that they had set out with "a premeditated intention to harm people and property".

Mohammed Barakeh, leader of the predominantly Arab Hadash communist party, said: "The one who has blood on his hands is Alik Ron and the government that killed our sons." Another Arab MP, Abdul Malik Dehamshe, demanded Commander Ron be put on trial.

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