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A Hopeless Situation in the Middle East?

Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority calls on militants to halt attacks on Israel amidst strong criticism from the US.

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These Palestinian women still have faith in their leader, Yasser Arafat.

Israeli warplanes fired missiles at Palestinian security targets in the West Bank and Gaza late on Friday.

Just hours before, a Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv wounded at least 25 people and killed the bomber. At least two people were wounded in the airstrikes.

The violence in the Middle East has raged on since early January despite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's call for a ceasefire in mid-December. To strengthen Arafat's plea for calm, the Palestinian Authority has now appealed to militants to maintain a "comprehensive ceasefire and stop operations against Israel and Israelis".

"These operations do not serve our national cause at all," the leadership said in a statement on Saturday.

Israeli officials said the call amounted to empty words unless Arafat dismantled militant groups in his territories. "All the steps Arafat must take are well known to him - from dismantling the terrorist infrastructures to arresting terrorists," Israeli cabinet secretary Gideon Saar said.

Pressure mounts on Arafat

US President George W. Bush made his harshest comments yet on Arafat following Friday's suicide bombing. "I am disappointed in Yasser Arafat. He must make a full effort to rout out terror in the Middle East," Bush said.

Washington also essentially suspended the peace mission to the region by special envoy Anthony Zinni.

The new wave of violence led UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to strongly question the situation in the region. "For the moment it looks hopeless, but we must not give up hope," Annan told a news conference while visiting Iran.

The situation was "tragic and very, very serious", Annan said. He added that "collective international action" was needed to convince all parties to return to the negotiating table.

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