Israel, Palestinians trade angry words after PLO site seized
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An early morning Israeli retaliatory strike and takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organization's unofficial headquarters have ignited a war of words in the Mideast, with Israel calling its actions "moderate" and a Palestinian official saying the moves were "inviting bloodshed."
Israeli forces seized Orient House, the PLO's unofficial headquarters in East Jerusalem and long a symbol of Palestinian independence, early Friday and raised the Israeli flag over the building. The attack came a day after a pro-Palestinian suicide bomber set off an explosion at a Jerusalem pizzeria, killing himself and 15 others and injuring around 100.
Aside from pro-Palestinian demonstrations outside Orient House, diplomats on both sides of the conflict took center stage on Friday.
Israeli officials threatened additional action until the end of what it called Palestinian-backed terror.
"If the Palestinian Authority continues to support violence, it is important that Israel and the international community make it clear they cannot advance their political agenda, their political goals," Dore Gold, a key adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told CNN. "Violence will bring about a reversal of Palestinian goals, not an advance."
But Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat called Israel's recent action a provocation, saying it would spur rather than slow the violence.
"The sight of the Israeli flag on the Orient House will not be seen by the Palestinians (as anything) other than major aggression against their nation ... against their aspirations, against their sovereignty," Erakat said. "Israel is really just inviting more bloodshed and enlarging the cycle of violence and counterviolence."
Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, said the Orient House occupation jeopardizes all the agreements the two sides have signed since the Oslo accords in 1993.
Outside Orient House on Friday, dozens of Palestinian and left-wing Israeli demonstrators clashed with police after they were turned away at a police blockade in front of the building. The demonstrators threw stones at the police, injuring one of the policemen. Six demonstrators were arrested.
Anticipating further unrest, Jerusalem police restricted Palestinian access to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Funerals for many of the suicide bombing victims were held throughout Jerusalem on Friday. Officials said 22 people remained hospitalized with blast injuries.
The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing.
The political fallout reached Washington, where Sharon's foreign policy adviser, Dan Ayalon, met Friday afternoon with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also talked by phone with Sharon on Friday, urging a revival of peace negotiations and reduction in violence, according to State Department officials.
Ayalon called Israel's Friday morning retaliatory strike "moderate," noting "there were no funerals on the Palestinian side while we buried 15." In that strike, Israeli F-16 warplanes fired at least two missiles into a Palestinian police station near Ramallah in the West Bank. No one was injured, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
Ayalon said Israel acted in self-defense against "a clear terrorist strategy by the Palestinians," adding: "Since 1993 there is not one agreement that the Palestinians have held to."
The U.S. State Department, however, was critical of Israel's response.
"These actions represent a political escalation, undermine faith and confidence in a negotiated settlement of this conflict, and increase the risk of further deterioration" of the situation, said department spokesman Richard Boucher.
In addition to occupying Orient House, Israeli forces took over the house of the governor of Abu Dis. The house served as the base of Force 17, which is Arafat's elite guard. Israeli forces also closed at least seven other buildings.
The State Department also reissued its warning, first issued in January, about travel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, citing a "heightened threat of terrorist incidents."
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