With new arrests and a ban on most movement in the West Bank, Israel kept up its pressure on the Palestinian leadership Friday in the wake of the suicide bombings that shattered a crowded market in Jerusalem two days before.
A tense stalemate took shape, with Israel holding off carrying out its threats to take drastic measures and the Palestinian leadership avoiding drastic new steps to clamp down on Islamic militants.
A new leaflet in the name of the militant Islamic organization Hamas, on the other hand, again lauded suicide attacks as the best tactic with which to confront Israel.
The members of Yasser Arafat’s Cabinet offered their resignations, saying the Palestinian leader needed freedom to act in the crisis, but there was no immediate word from Arafat on whether he would accept the resignations.
In Washington, President Clinton said his Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, would return to the region to try to rebuild the tattered negotiations for peace.
But there was no letup in recriminations between the partners in those negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leaders.
Netanyahu again accused the Palestinian Authority of laxity toward armed organizations in its midst, while Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo accused Netanyahu of hoping to destroy the Palestinian government so that peace talks could be declared a failure.
The attack on Wednesday took 13 Israeli lives in addition to the lives of the two suicide bombers. Fifty-one people remained hospitalized Friday, with 12 of them still in serious condition.
In addition to barring most movement from town to town in the West Bank or outside Gaza, the Israeli government arrested dozens of Palestinian activists from Islamic political groups overnight and set up a naval blockade against the Palestinian fishing fleet.
Given the lack of dialogue between the two sides, Clinton announced that he would send Ross to the Middle East next week to convey Washington’s ideas on further talks. But he played down the likelihood of a visit by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright until the situation was clearer.
Israeli officials said that the two men who had carried out the attack had not been identified and that the 50 arrests in the West Bank overnight had been an attempt to ascertain at least the organization involved.
Israeli soldiers also searched homes and confiscated anything deemed likely to incite violence against Israel.
“Since our working assumptions are that Hamas or Islamic Jihad are behind this attack, we are arresting anyone that can help us solve who sent the bombers and who is behind it,” said Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, adding that more arrests were likely.
An early theory, that the suicide bombers were young Palestinian men from the southern West Bank town of Dahariya who disappeared 15 months ago, was dismissed Friday after blood and DNA tests on relatives of those men ruled out kinship to the bombers.
Israeli officials have not ruled out the possibility that the bombers had come from abroad, mirroring an attempt in April 1996 by another Islamic militant group, Hezbollah, to infiltrate a Western-looking suicide bomber into Israel as a tourist.
That attempt ended when the bomber severely wounded himself while assembling the bomb in an East Jerusalem hotel.
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