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Cease-Fire Just Empty Words for the Homeless, Fatherless

Mideast: After settler with 9 children is shot to death, Israeli army bulldozes dozens of Palestinian houses.

July 05, 2001|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YATTA, West Bank — Standing beside the rubble that a day earlier had been his home, Issa Dagamin did not doubt that the latest Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire has collapsed in all but name.

Tuesday morning, hours after the bullet-riddled body of a Jewish settler was discovered a few miles from the Palestinian's land, Israeli soldiers bulldozed Dagamin's house and dozens of other homes in the area. For the dispossessed farmers, Israel's self-declared policy of restraint no longer exists.

"I asked the soldiers: 'What is my guilt?' " said Dagamin, who watched helplessly as troops leveled the home he shared with his wife and six children. "Somebody gets killed somewhere, and you punish me?"

A week after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell came to the region to cement a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, both sides say it isn't working. Each side blames the other for the failure.

In farewell interviews with the Israeli media, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk on Wednesday blamed both sides for derailing peace efforts. Indyk was deeply involved in the Oslo process, which began in 1993 with the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and collapsed when the current uprising erupted in September.

The ambassador told the Jerusalem Post that he doesn't believe Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat "ever really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives." Indyk said he didn't expect a comprehensive settlement in the near future.

In a separate interview with Israel Television, he said Israel had hurt peace efforts by expanding its Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after signing the Oslo accords. The settlements, home to about 200,000 Israelis, are illegal under international law.

Israelis, Palestinians and U.S. officials alike seemed to be preparing Wednesday for one side in the conflict to formally declare an end to the cease-fire, which Israeli officials have said is the last hope of avoiding an all-out assault on the Palestinian Authority by the Israeli army.

A Palestinian militant was shot Wednesday in the West Bank city of Hebron by what Palestinians said was an Israeli hit squad. In another incident, an Israeli was gunned down near the Palestinian town of Tulkarm. Police said the man had a criminal background, and they were unsure whether he was the victim of a terrorist attack.

At the end of a stormy, four-hour session of Israel's security Cabinet, ministers authorized the army to hunt down and kill more Palestinian militants, despite opposition to the policy from the Bush administration. The 13-member group also told the army to react more harshly to Palestinian attacks on soldiers and civilians.

But in what seemed a bid to avoid being the first to abandon the cease-fire, the ministers also said Israel is continuing a policy of restraint. That pronouncement so infuriated conservative members Rehavam Zeevi, minister of tourism, and Avigdor Lieberman, infrastructure minister, that they said they will no longer attend government meetings.

Israel Radio reported that Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at times found himself the lone voice arguing for restraint among ministers who were advocating expelling Arafat from Palestinian-controlled territories and other drastic measures.

Peres, a member of the Labor Party, has publicly criticized the government in recent days for what he says is its demonization of Arafat and unwillingness to resume political contacts with the Palestinian Authority. He has warned that the collapse of the cease-fire will cost both sides far more victims than the current toll of more than 600 dead in nine months of fighting.

But he finds little support in the mostly hard-line full Cabinet, where Sharon is under increasing pressure to declare an end to the cease-fire and go on the offensive.

"I demand that we view the Palestinian Authority as a terrorist authority, as an enemy, and that our goal vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority shouldn't only be to end the violence or to lower the flames, but to destroy the terrorist infrastructure," Public Security Minister Uzi Landau said.

As the security Cabinet met, gunmen opened fire in Hebron on Hazem Natshe, a militant of Arafat's Fatah movement, shooting him three times. Palestinians said the attack was an attempted "targeted killing" by Israel.

The army said it knew nothing of the shooting, although it acknowledged that Natshe was on the most-wanted list of militants suspected of attacks.

Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the landscape looks increasingly like a war zone. Israeli troops are dug in along roads and Palestinian villages and towns are sealed off and, in some cases, under curfew. Jewish settlers say they feel like sitting ducks.

Yair Har-Sinai, a 51-year-old father of nine, was gunned down as he led his sheep to pasture near the isolated settlement of Susiya, four miles southeast of Yatta. His body was discovered Tuesday not far from the farm where he raised sheep and made cheese.

Described by friends as a devoutly religious Jew who rejected modern life, Har-Sinai was well known to the Palestinian shepherds as a bit of an oddball who dressed in unprocessed wool clothing even in the summer and used a donkey to plow his fields. The Palestinians said he told them repeatedly that their land belonged to the Jewish people.

Settlers said Har-Sinai's relationship with the Palestinian shepherds gradually deteriorated as his flock grew in size and he began to compete for land and water.

Har-Sinai's killing was a catastrophe for Dagamin and other nearby farmers. An army spokesman insisted that Israeli authorities had authorized destruction of the farmers' makeshift homes long ago because they were built without permit on land Israel says belongs to the state. But he acknowledged that it was "not a coincidence" that the homes were bulldozed after Har-Sinai's slaying.

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