A member of the military wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation was killed yesterday when a telephone exploded in his hand in an apparent resumption of Israel's campaign to liquidate Palestinian militants it blames for the murder of Israelis.
Osama Jawabri, 29, died instantly when the public telephone he was using in the West Bank town of Nablus blew up. Two passing children, aged four and two, were lightly wounded in the blast.
The operation came a few hours before the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, left on a diplomatic mission to Britain and America, and a day after Mr Arafat had ordered his followers to honour the American-brokered ceasefire throughout the occupied territories and Israel.
Palestinians, who acknowledged that Jawabri had taken part in recent attacks on Jewish settlers and inside Israel, blamed Israel for his death. Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank commander of Fatah's Tanzim militia, warned: "With this assassination, Sharon has opened the gates of Hell for the Israeli occupation."
An Israeli army spokesman declined to admit responsibility, but Israel has used booby-trapped telephones before, at least once in Nablus.
More than 12 Palestinian activists have been assassinated since the intifada erupted nine months ago. Israel complains that Mr Arafat's security services don't arrest those responsible for attacking Israelis, even when Israeli intelligence hands over the names of suspects.
After meeting Mr Blair during a stopover in London last night, Mr Sharon blamed "Palestinian terror" for holding up the peace process. Mr Sharon will have talks with President George Bush in Washington tomorrow where he is expected to reiterate that he will "not negotiate under fire". He is likely to press for a six-week cooling-off period before introducing the confidence-building measures proposed by the former senator George Mitchell. The Americans are in no mood, however, to let him put off a settlement freeze, which the Palestinians see as an essential quid pro quo for suspending the violence.
The countdown, Mr Sharon argues, must begin only after the Palestinian shooting stops. His more flexible Foreign Minister and former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, was equally insistent yesterday. "There mustbe a complete cessation of the fire. We haven't yet reached 100 per cent effort, but I absolutely want 100 per cent results as well," he said.
Mr Sharon has scored diplomatic points by not retaliating for the suicide bombing that killed 21 young Israelis outside a Tel Aviv disco on 1 June, even if Western governments recognise his restraint as a tactical manoeuvre.
Mr Arafat responded on Friday night with a charm offensive of his own, inviting six Israeli correspondents to a two-hour briefing in his Ramallah office. He assured them that Hamas and Islamic Jihad bombers had indeed been arrested, and declared that so had some of his own Fatah activists.
The ceasefire, he added, applied to the whole of the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Palestinian spokesmen had earlier said it covered only those areas under exclusively Palestinian control. Mr Arafat delivered the wider ceasefire order to Tanzim commanders on Saturday. One of them, Hussein Sheikh, said yesterday that they all agreed to comply.Reuse content