|Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback||
Barak calls for unity government after new violence
Palestinian says Israelis are 'pouring oil on the fire'
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna, CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel, Ben Wedeman and Rula Amin, and CNN Producer Sausan Ghosheh contributed to this report.
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for the formation of an emergency coalition government Thursday after Israel bombed targets in the West Bank and Gaza in retaliation for the deaths of at least two soldiers. Barak had said three soldiers had been killed, but the Israeli Defense Forces had only recovered two bodies.
In a news conference after a day of Cabinet meetings, Barak accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of abandoning peace efforts and warned that a further Israeli clampdown on Palestinian territory could be coming. But in an interview with CNN shortly afterward, Barak repeatedly denounced Palestinian claims that Israel had effectively declared war on them as "propaganda." (See video and transcript.)
"The real cause is Arafat," Barak said. By rejecting the peace agreement under discussion at the Camp David talks over the summer, he said, Arafat has "paid with the blood of his people."
If it becomes clear Arafat is no longer interested in participating in peace talks, Barak said in the news conference, "We shall act gradually, with determination and resolution, even if it takes a long time, even if there are major difficulties, so that there is a separation between us and the Palestinians in all respects."
In response to Barak's remarks, Palestinian Cabinet minister Faisal Husseini said Barak and opposition leader Ariel Sharon "opened the vendetta box two weeks ago ... now they are pouring more oil on the fire and creating a new situation in occupied territories ... the violence and more kinds of violence. What they are doing is weakening us who are calling for nonviolence ... going ahead for more damage for Israel, not through demonstrations but through fire and explosions."
Husseini expressed regret for the killing of the two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob, but he said the Israelis were responsible for the past 15 days of violence, which has killed nearly 100 people, most of them Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.
Barak said, "The right thing to do now is a national emergency government, even if it takes three or four days to set up. I repeat my call today for all the party leaders to prepare to enter such a government."
Barak's latest call for an emergency coalition did not directly mention Sharon, whose visit to Jerusalem's holy sites two weeks ago preceded Palestinian riots. But he said the coalition would be as broad-based as possible.
The opposition Likud Party, which Sharon leads, has said it would only join Barak in a coalition government if Barak abandons peace talks with the Palestinians. There was no immediate response from Likud leaders.
Barak's call for a national unity government came after hours of Israeli attacks on Palestinian targets, including the Ramallah police station where the Israeli soldiers were taken outside and killed -- a scene an Israeli officer described as a lynching.
Israeli helicopter gunships fired on Palestinian broadcasting facilities in the West Bank and Palestinian Authority offices in Gaza -- but Barak denied reports that Israeli forces had targeted offices used by Arafat in Gaza.
Barak blasted Palestinian authorities for releasing militant members of the Hamas organization from their jails after the raids, accusing them of turning "cold-blooded killers" loose. But he warned against vigilante attacks on the part of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Let us not, God forbid, take the law into our own hands," he said. "I have instructed the police and security forces to take very stringent action against anyone who breaks the law."
'We will continue this march'
Thursday's crisis was triggered by the deaths of at least two Israeli soldiers who had been detained by Palestinian police in Ramallah. A Palestinian mob stormed the police station where the soldiers were being held, killing at least two of them.
An Israeli rocket struck just 50 meters from Arafat's headquarters, with the Palestinian leader inside the building during the attack, his aides said. A defiant Arafat toured some of the areas that had been hit and went to a hospital to visit some of the wounded.
"You are forgetting we are the Palestinian people," Arafat said. "We are strong. We will continue this march until we have an independent Palestinian state."
Palestinian officials said the Israeli air strikes amounted to all-out war, and appealed for immediate intervention to stop two weeks of clashes between Israeli security forces and rock-throwing Palestinians that have killed nearly 100 people -- all but a few of them Palestinians or Israeli-Arabs.
"Israel must be stopped immediately," said the Palestinians' chief peace negotiator, Saeb Erakat. "This is an all-out war against the Palestinians. We call on the international authorities to interfere immediately."
Palestinian officials estimate seven people were wounded in Gaza. Another 25 people were said to have been wounded in Ramallah. The Israelis say they gave the Palestinians three hours notice that the attacks were coming so buildings could be evacuated.
Israeli officials put the blame for the violence squarely on Arafat's shoulders, saying that he alone could stop the spiraling violence that looked to spell the end of any hope for peace in the perennially troubled region.
Immediately after the air strikes, Israeli officials closed all Palestinian-controlled areas, barring, except in an extreme emergency, Palestinians from traveling outside their communities.
Israeli gunboats patrolled the coast off Gaza, and a Palestinian marine force boat docked at a marina was damaged in the attack.
Clinton calls for end to violence
The violence put up seemingly insurmountable blocks to efforts to mediate a cessation of violence in the region. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who held meetings with Barak and Arafat over the last two days, said the incident "complicates the issues we are trying to resolve."
In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton -- who has tried to broker a solution to the decades-old struggle between Israelis and Palestinians -- condemned the mob violence and called for an immediate end to hostilities.
"Now is the time to stop the violence, to restore calm and to ultimately return to the negotiating table," Clinton said in a news conference at the White House.
Annan's diplomacy had secured a commitment from both the Israelis and Palestinians for a high-level security meeting to be chaired by U.S. CIA chief George Tenet, but Tenet's plans following Thursday's events were unclear.
Palestinians and Israelis have been fighting for two weeks, since the hawkish Israeli opposition leader Sharon visited a bitterly contested religious site in east Jerusalem.
Sharon, the Likud Party chairman, went to the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Arabs as Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, on September 28. Arabs considered the visit an insult, and said Sharon "defiled" the sacred site.
Annan claims breakthrough in Mideast diplomacy
Israel Defense Forces
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.