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Arafat calls on Palestinians to commit to cease-fire

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat

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Yasser Arafat
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said Wednesday the authority is committed to a cease-fire with Israel and urged all Palestinian groups to renew their commitment to it as well.

The announcement was made as Israeli forces conducted raids in Ramallah and Nablus, detaining Palestinians for questioning and uncovering a weapons cache and an explosives lab.

In Washington, the Bush administration dismissed Arafat's move, saying he is trying to undermine Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the peace process.

"Nothing has changed in respect to Arafat," said State Department spokesman Phil Reeker.

Reeker and a White House spokeswoman, Claire Buchan both said Arafat is "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

In a statement issued in Ramallah, West Bank, Arafat called on Palestinian groups "to reaffirm national unity and solidarity" by their "commitment to the cease-fire."

Also, in an interview with Reuters, Arafat is quoted as saying he is ready to take action against the militant groups on the condition that Israel stop its strikes against them.

David Saranga, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, asked, "Why does Arafat wait for Israeli action before he is acting against terrorism?

"The Palestinian Authority should act against the infrastructure of terrorism as soon as possible and they should start doing it today, if not yesterday," said Saranga.

The Palestinian Authority Cabinet discussed the matter Wednesday, and Nabil Amr, the Palestinian information minister, said it supports Arafat's call "for the sake of the peace and in accordance with the road map."

"The Cabinet hold the Israeli government fully responsible for this deterioration and warns of the grave implications it has on the regional stability.

"In this context, the Cabinet expressed its support for the serious efforts by the Palestinian security services to uphold the rule of law and reserve public order," Amr said.

Arafat's call for a truce comes after Israel killed seven militants from the radical Islamic group Hamas in three attacks over the last six days.

Emergency crews in Gaza Tuesday
Emergency crews in Gaza Tuesday

Those strikes were launched by Israel after Palestinian militants carried out a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem last week that killed 21 people and injured more than 130 others.

Islamic Jihad and Hamas claimed responsibility. Those two groups and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades called off their cease-fire after Israel killed a senior Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, whom Hamas says was a moderate political leader not involved in terrorism -- an assertion that Israel adamantly disputes.

Arafat said the groups should honor the cease-fire in order to stop what he called the "war, assassinations, siege and daily practices against our people" being carried out by Israel.

Arafat, whom the United States has attempted to sideline until this week, also said that international monitors should come to the Middle East to monitor the compliance of both sides to the road map for peace which is backed by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

The peace plan, which the two sides have agreed to, aims at ending the violence and establishing an independent state of Palestine by 2005.

Arafat's cease-fire call follows Abbas' peace efforts on Tuesday in Gaza.

Abbas was to meet with a Palestinian national committee to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories and ways to achieve a cease-fire.

Sources said the meeting was abruptly canceled after an attack by Israeli helicopters. The gunships fired at least three missiles at a car near a refugee camp north of Gaza City, killing an elderly man and wounding 23 bystanders, Palestinian hospital sources said.

The apparent target of the attack, Hamas member Khalid Massoud, ran from the car before it was hit near the entrance of the Jabaliya refugee camp, sources said. Another Hamas member, Wael Ikilan, escaped with him, sources said. Hospital sources said Massoud was "moderately wounded" and after being treated was taken away by other Hamas members. (Full story)

In Nablus in the West Bank Wednesday, a weapons cache and an explosives lab were uncovered, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Separately, IDF troops arrested 21 Palestinians when they raided the Ramallah offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian sources said.

Israeli military sources said 15 Palestinians were detained for questioning but were not arrested.

Palestinian sources said the IDF troops had opened fire, but the IDF denied that charge saying the arrests were part of a routine operation.

After the raid, Israeli troops withdrew, both sides said. No injuries were reported.

The IDF said in Nablus it had discovered a hideout containing a number of a weapons along with a bomb made up of "a few kilograms" of explosives and containing metal balls.

In addition, the IDF said, chemicals and fertilizers were found along with Islamic Jihad leaflets.

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