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A Senior Palestinian Official Urges End to Suicide Attacks

A Senior Palestinian Official Urges End to Suicide Attacks

Author: Serge Schmemann
Publication: The New York Times
Date: August 31, 2002

The senior Palestinian security official who has been negotiating with Israel on a cease-fire denounced suicide attacks in an interview published today in an Israeli newspaper as "murders for no reason," and said he was demanding that militant organizations abandon them.

The official, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, who was appointed Palestinian interior minister in June, said he had told all Palestinian factions: "Stop the suicide bombings, stop the murders for no reason. Return to the legitimate struggle against the occupation, without violence and following international norms and legitimacy."

Suicide attacks, he said, harmed the Palestinian cause. "Children were exploited for these attacks," he said, "when they could have made a much more positive contribution to future Palestinian society."

While officials of the Palestinian Authority have assailed suicide bombings in the past and have claimed to oppose them, Mr. Yehiyeh has emerged as the primary Palestinian contact with Israelis in talks on easing violence. He has also been holding meetings with all Palestinian factions, including the radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in an effort to forge a common front.

It was also noteworthy that his comments appeared in an interview with Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. Mr. Yehiyeh and another ranking Palestinian, Muhammad Dahlan, who is Yasir Arafat's top security adviser, have been seeking in recent weeks to project a conciliatory, moderate image to Israelis.

Mr. Dahlan, a 42-year-old former chief of security in the Gaza Strip, has given several interviews to Israeli newspapers, including one today on the front page of Yediot Ahronot with Nahum Barnea, the paper's influential columnist.

In the interview, Mr. Dahlan declared that he thought that the current violence would end in peace.

"I am optimistic," he said. "Peace is on the way. A year, or two, something like that. Really. This is the last round."

Mr. Yehiyeh, in his interview, acknowledged that neither Hamas and Islamic Jihad, nor the radical wing of Mr. Arafat's movement, Fatah, have agreed to forswear terror. The extreme organizations have publicly rejected Mr. Yehiyeh's proposals, though talks among the factions continue. The next meeting was set for Sunday.

Mr. Yehiyeh was also the Palestinian official who negotiated with the Israeli defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, on an agreement to pull Israeli troops back from Bethlehem and Gaza, and eventually other towns, if the Palestinians kept the peace. Though the process stalled after an initial pullback in Bethlehem, Mr. Yehiyeh said Palestinians had "full control" in Bethlehem, which has remained peaceful since the Israelis allowed the Palestinian police to return on Aug. 19.

Both Mr. Yehiyeh and Mr. Dahlan have insisted that they are acting under the authority of Mr. Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who remains secluded in his headquarters in Ramallah. But Mr. Dahlan, at least, urged Israelis not to focus so much attention on the Palestinian leadership.

"Don't waste time on dreams over who will come after Arafat," he said. "For better or for worse, Arafat represents the consensus. Everything else is nonsense."

So far, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, have made no public signs of changing their harsh policies. General Yaalon made headlines over the past week when he declared that if Israel did not defeat the Palestinian Authority, Israelis would face a "cancerous threat." Mr. Sharon declared that General Yaalon's comments were "true and correct."

Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza have also continued undiminished, with daily reports of raids to nab militants, often leading to Palestinian casualties.

Yet after a period of relative quiet, the Israeli public indicated at least an interest in the tentative steps made by Mr. Ben-Eliezer, who is also head of the moderate Labor Party. The weekly opinion poll in the daily newspaper Maariv showed Mr. Ben-Eliezer rebounding in popularity within his party, though he continued to trail Mr. Sharon by a wide margin.

In another development, Reuters reported that an 18-year-old Palestinian woman was executed by the radical wing of the Fatah movement, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, apparently for collaborating with Israel, citing people close to the group as sources. The woman, Rajah Ibrahim, was the second woman to be killed by Al Aksa in a week.

Palestinians with ties to Al Aksa told Reuters that Ms. Ibrahim was seized in Tulkarm, one of the West Bank towns under siege by Israel, and was accused of providing the information that the Israelis used to track down and kill the Aksa commander in Tulkarm, Raed al-Karmi, in January.

Dozens of men have been killed by Palestinians after accusations that the men helped Israelis in their hunt for militants. But last week, Ikhlas Yassin, a 35- year-old mother, also from Tulkarem, became the first woman killed for that reason in the 23-month uprising. The Palestinians produced a videotape in which she said she had passed information to the Israelis through her brother about a man who was wanted, and later killed, by the Israelis.

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