Zinni calls on Palestinians to act over bloodshed

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The Independent Online

Less than 24 hours after the American mediator, General Anthony Zinni, announced that he was optimistic about brokering an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire by the end of this week, it was back to bloodshed as usual yesterday in Israel and the West Bank.

A 16-year-old Israeli girl was killed and 35 other civilians injured in two attacks, one by a Palestinian gunman in the commuter town of Kfar Saba, north-east of Tel-Aviv, the other a suicide bombing near French Hill at the northern entrance to Jerusalem.

The gunman, identified as a 26-year-old from Nablus, was shot dead by police and a passing truck driver. He had infiltrated the business and residential centre of Kfar Saba from the West Bank, two miles away, and fired two magazines from an automatic weapon, hitting shoppers.

Two hours after the French Hill suicide bombing, an Islamic Jihad activist killed himself charging a bus at a red traffic light, a fourth Palestinian blew himself up prematurely in the nearby Arab village of Anata, apparently while preparing a bomb. In addition, a member of Yasser Arafat's Fatah group was killed in an exchange of fire between Israeli and Palestinian fighters in Bethlehem, the scene of some of last week's heaviest clashes.

General Zinni condemned the Palestinian attacks, but insisted they would not deter him from trying to end the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

"It is critical," he said,"that the Palestinian Authority take responsibility and act against terror and punish those responsible. There is no justification or excuse for terror." Later, he met Mr Arafat for an hour in Ramallah.

In an effort to repair the damage to Israeli-American relations wrought by last week's massive invasion of towns and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli spokesmen responded with unfamiliar restraint to the latest attacks. "I would guess," one official confided, "that what happened today is still tolerable."

Before the Kfar Saba and Jerusalem attacks, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, told his cabinet that Israel would focus on achieving a ceasefire. But he added a warning that it would respond to any violence during the truce negotiations. After a meeting with General Zinni, Israel's President, Moshe Katzav, accused Mr Arafat of inspiring terrorist activity.

However, Daniel Seaman, the director of the government press office, said: "Israel will continue to make every effort to reduce tensions and produce a successful conclusion to General Zinni's mission.

"We'll do what we can, without endangering the lives of Israelis. We're leaving room for things to quieten down."