New demand by Sharon brings truce to the brink

Click to follow

Israelis and Palestinians marked the first anniversary of the intifada with a long weekend of bloodshed and mutual recrimination.

Yesterday Israeli troops shot dead three Palestinians on the West Bank, bringing the three-day total to 12 and the truce agreed last Wednesday between the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, to the brink of collapse.

In a four-hour emergency meeting on Saturday night, Ariel Sharon's inner cabinet decided to give the Palestinians 48 hours to implement a ceasefire. If there was further violence, a spokesman said, Israel would feel free to resume "initiated actions", which presumably would include assassin- ating alleged terrorist leaders.

In addition to the fatalities, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society logged 135 wounded in Saturday's clashes and eight more yesterday. Israelis reported at least 12 injured in what they said were 62 unprovoked attacks with guns, mortars and grenades on soldiers and settlements.

Israeli sentries shot dead two Palestinian workers at a roadblock near Jenin in the northern West Bank yesterday morning. An army spokesman said their taxi had failed to stop for a security check. In Hebron, a 30-year-old Palestinian civilian was killed when troops opened fire on youths pelting them with stones. The Red Crescent said he was walking in the street and was not involved in the confrontation.

After the roadblock shooting, the Palestinian Information Minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said: "The commanders of the Israeli army have approved killing and murdering as a profession. If this is a ceasefire, what is war?"

Israel said it was investigating the circumstances. Tzipi Livni, the minister responsible for information, added: "We regret any loss of civilian lives. I am sure no Israeli soldier will deliberately kill a civilian." She blamed the Palestinians for the rising violence.

Saeb Erakat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, accused Mr Sharon of deliberately sabotaging the Arafat-Peres peace efforts. The Israeli Prime Minister, he told European envoys, was not interested in continuing negotiations, but in "continuing crimes against the Palestinian people".

Security chiefs from the two sides held a second meeting yesterday to implement the "work plan" signed by the two Nobel Prize winners. Ms Livni accused the Palestinians of failing to take any steps to keep their side of the bargain.

In particular, Israel is demanding that they arrest more than 100 activists it says are terrorists. They are named in two lists Mr Peres presented to Mr Arafat last week: a short list of about a dozen commanders and a longer one of rank and file. "So far," Ms Livni told a press conference, "they haven't arrested any prominent terrorists". The Palestinians denied that they had made any such commitment. Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza security chief, said they would only arrest people who broke Palestinian law. However, a copy of the signed agreement produced by the Israeli minister confirmed that they had indeed agreed to detain leading "terrorists".

None the less, Israel took a tentative first step to keep its side of the deal yesterday. It reopened the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Ms Livni added that Israel was ready to lift travel restrictions on the West Bank town of Jericho if it remained calm. It was also preparing to remove some Gaza roadblocks and allow fuel tankers to enter the Palestinian territories.

Since the uprising began in September last year, more than 570 Palestinians have been killed and about 15,000 wounded. Israel has suffered 177 dead and some 1,800 wounded.