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RICE TALKS PEACE IN JERUSALEM

Palestinians Kill Israeli In Gaza

Israel & U.S. On Collision Course

Ariel Sharon & Condoleezza Rice

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has come and gone - mission accomplished. Her job was to keep the ball rolling for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements starting in the second half of August. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian terrorists opened fire in the Gaza Strip killing one IDF soldier and wounded two others. It was only one of the daily violations of the current 'lull' in the Palestinian attacks. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to agree on closer Israeli- Palestinian cooperation for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements starting in mid-August.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

In Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was talking about Israeli-Palestinian peace moves with Ariel Sharon: but in Gaza, Palestinian terrorists attacked again, killing one IDF soldiers and wounding two others.

Two Palestinian gunmen fired an anti-tank missile and automatic weapons at a group of civilian workers and the IDF soldiers who were protecting them. Three IDF soldiers were wounded, one died later of his injuries. The troops fired back killing one gunman and apparently injured a second who escaped. The attack came in the Philadelfi Axis, a narrow Israeli – controlled security strip that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt. It was one the daily Palestinian attacks despite the current lull after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas worked out a cease-fire understanding with the terror organizations. The raid was reportedly carried out by the Islamic Jihad and a splinter group of Fatah. On the West Bank, IDF soldiers manning a roadblock caught a sixteen year Palestinian with four pipe-bombs. At IDF roadblocks on the West Bank, more than 25 Palestinian youths with hidden bombs and explosive belts have been detained since the current lull began in February.

Shortly after the latest attack in the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice painted a positive picture of the situation after meeting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Rice told Sharon the next three months would be critical in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sharon told Rice that Palestinian attacks were jeopardizing the new opportunity for peace. The Secretary called Israel's disengagement plan both wise and courageous and she announced that Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the more than 1200 settler homes in Gaza would be demolished by Israel after the evacuation. The Palestinians would carry out the clean-up of the rubble and international funding would pick up the tab. Rice also spoke of the need for both sides to realize that Israel's withdrawal must be carried out peacefully and without violence.

On another issue, Rice said Israel now fully understands American concerns over Israeli arms sales to China and she was confident that Israeli and U.S. officials would succeed in working out an understanding. Washington is apparently demanding a veto power over all Israeli arms sales, even when no American components are involved. There are conflicting reports about whether Washington has demanded that several Defense Ministry officials be fired over the affair.

At her Jerusalem news conference, Rice praised Sharon as a leader of vision. However, it appears that the Prime Minister and the Bush administration may be on a collision course after the upcoming withdrawal this autumn. Secretary Rice glossed over what Israel views as serious Palestinian attacks and the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas to disarm the Palestinian terror organizations. Sharon has made clear time and again that Israel will not proceed to the Roadmap unless Abbas dismantles the terror groups that have now been regrouping; buy Rice spoke of 'accelerated progress' to the Roadmap. After its quarantine of Yasser Arafat, the Bush administration is shoring up Mahmoud Abbas and chooses to see the cup as half full while Sharon views it as half empty. (On this score, Labor's Shimon Peres talks of Abbas 'having his problems, but who doesn't?') Sharon can be expected to dig in his heels after the withdrawal. At present, the Prime Minister has an interest in keeping the situation on the ground as quiet as possible but after the disengagement, it's hard to see him continuing to turn the other cheek if the Palestinian attacks continue.

Footnote: Although there has been a dramatic drop in terror attacks and in Israeli casualties, the fact that Israeli security forces have halted their counter-terror offensive has created the impression abroad that a cease-fire is really in force. This despite the fact that not a day passes without the Palestinians launching Qassam rockets, shooting attacks or attempted suicide bombings. Case in point: at the Rice news conference the raid that killed one IDF soldier and wounded two others was not even mentioned, although it occurred earlier in the day.

David Essing

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