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THE WORLD

Israel Enjoys Long Lull in Attacks

Good intelligence and good luck account for a three-month respite, officials say. Others credit the West Bank barrier, military might.

June 21, 2004|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

Arafat's role, if any, in the lull is unclear. Aides say he took Israeli threats this year to kill or expel him very seriously. However, Israel has indicated that it would probably not act against him unless there were some precipitating event, such as a bombing that claimed many lives.

Palestinian officials say Israeli tactics may have succeeded in stifling suicide bombings but not the underlying fury and frustration that propel them.

Many Palestinians say they are bitter over the worldwide media attention that comes after suicide bombings in Israel, while relatively little attention is paid to the unrelenting daily tolls in the West Bank and Gaza.

For Palestinians, last month was one of the bloodiest of the intifada, with 111 people killed, about three-quarters of them combatants. Most of those deaths came during Israeli military incursions into crowded refugee camps in Gaza.

Experience shows that a reduction in overall violence can sometimes be conducive to peace moves, while even a single attack can cause Israeli policymakers and the public to resist conciliatory gestures toward the Palestinians.

In a recent example of that, pollsters say the margin of defeat of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan in a party referendum May 2 was probably widened when an Israeli woman and her three daughters were killed that day by Palestinian gunmen near their Gaza settlement.

Even a short respite between bombings brings Israelis out in public in droves. In central Jerusalem, cafes that were the scene of previous suicide attacks have been full again -- though most establishments have guards with hand-held metal detectors.

"There's always the fear," said Sigal Armoni, an elegant middle-aged woman shopping in Tel Aviv's busy Dizengoff Center. "I hope something has truly changed, but let's see how long this tranquillity lasts."

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Special correspondent Tami Zer in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.

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