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Israel Rocked by Deadly Attacks

After a series of violent attacks over the weekend, Israelis struggle to recover from the shock. Meanwhile warplanes fire on Palestinian targets in the West Bank, and politicians sharpen their rhetoric.

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Suicide bomber Mohammed Daragmeh posing before he set off to Jerusalem on March 2 to carry out a suicide bombing

A lone gunman shot dead 10 Israelis, seven of them soldiers, at a checkpoint in the West Bank on Sunday, bringing the total weekend death toll up to 21. The last 24 hours have seen one of the worst surges of violence in the conflict with the Palestinians.

The Palestinian sniper struck in the early morning, just 12 hours after a teenage suicide bomber killed nine people on a crowded Jerusalem street Saturday night.

The two attacks come in addition to shooting deaths of two Israelis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

All four attacks were claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group linked to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, and were carried out to avenge Israeli raids on two West Bank refugee camps that killed up to 30 Palestinians earlier in the week.

A self-perpetuating cycle of violence

In retaliation for the Palestinian attacks, Israel set helicopter gunships and tanks against Palestinian police and security compounds in the West Bank, just several hundred meters away from Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. At least four Palestinians were killed.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, warned that more severe measures would follow.

"We will continue to strike at them with impunity until such time that the Palestinian Authority and its leader realize that the only way that they can achieve their political goals, the only way that they will ever be able to get a Palestinian entity is if it is an entity that rids itself of terrorist activity, of incitement and of violence," Gissin said in a press conference on Sunday.

Sharon, who was elected 13 months ago on a promise to make Israel safe, has seen his popularity plummet to an all-time low. Caught between conflicting pressures to "get tough" and "make peace" with the Palestinians, Sharon has been condemned from both left and right for failing to establish a coherent policy.

In the 17 months since the fighting started, very little progress has been made. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have been willing to make compromises for peace.

Strong rhetoric

A peace proposal put forth by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last week provided a glimmer of hope by offering Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a full withdrawal from the occupied territories.

After the explosion of violence over the weekend, representatives from the Arab world began rejecting the peace initiative. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi came out against the plan on Saturday and threatened to quit the Arab League if the Arab countries held to the proposal.

Syria’s President Assad also voiced misgivings over the Saudi plan on Sunday. In a statement issued in Lebanon, Assad insisted that there could be no compromise on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands. Differences over the fate of refugees and status of Jerusalem are chief obstacles not addressed in the Saudi draft.

While Sharon has admitted interest in the Saudi proposal, he has said there will be no negotiation until the Palestinian refrained completely from violence.

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