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Zinni's Baptism By Fire in Israel

The newest US Envoy to the middle east on Tuesday witnessed first-hand the bloodshed and violence that has marred peace talks between Israelis and Palestians

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US Envoy, Anthony Zinni arrived minutes after two gunmen opened fire on a crowd in Afula

If the first few days are any indication, America’s newest Middle East peace negotiator will have a long road ahead of him.

Two Palestinian gunman in their late teens opened fire at a bus station in the West Bank town of Afula on Tuesday morning. They killed two Israelis and wounded more than 50. The shooting was part of a day of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which left three Israelis and three Palestinians dead. It took place as US Envoy, Anthony Zinni was touring the region by helicopter.

Minutes after the two Afula gunmen, both members of militant Islamic groups, were killed by Israeli security forces, the helicopter carrying Zinni, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and American consular officials, hovered overhead.

Sharon was taking Zinni, who arrived over the weekend, on an four-hour aerial tour of the West Bank and Gaza strip during the first day of talks together. Zinni, a retired US Marine General and experienced negotiator in Somalia and Pakistan, and US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns were to meet with Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat Wednesday afternoon in Ramallah.

“I think this (attack) points out the importance of gaining a cease fire,” Zinni later told reporters.

Arafat denounces attacks

Prior to Zinni’s arrival over the weekend, Sharon had demanded one week without violence before Israel would engage in peace talks with the Palestinians. Arafat denounced the attacks in a statement released Tuesday evening and promised a “100 percent effort” towards cease fire.

“I confirm our full commitment to the peace process as a strategic option for the Palestinian people in order to achieve its consistent national rights,” Arafat said in a statement to a Palestinian news agency.

But his denouncements fell on deaf ears in parts of the Israeli government. One official said the attack, which came hours after the Israeli army pulled out of Palestinian-controlled territory in Jenin, was proof Arafat was doing little to prevent violence by radical Islamic groups.

Both gunman came from Jenin, considered a haven for Islamic fundamentalists. One was a member of Islamic Jihad, the other part of the military wing of Arafat’s own Fatah faction.

“We see no change in Arafat’s strategy of violence and terror,” Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin ben-Eliezer told Zinni, according to a ministry statement. “If you bring about a tactical change on his part it will be an achievement.”

Zinni to “push and prod”

Bringing about a change in the region has been among America’s top priorities since the September 11 terrorist attacks. US Officials see a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians as crucial to satisfying Arab nations who have so far provided support to the US lead war against the Taliban and the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda.

One of Zinni’s first goals will be to implement the Mitchell report, a series of recommendations by American senator George Mitchell to jump-start the peace process. Among the recommendations is an immediate cease-fire, followed by a cooling off period and a series of confidence-building measures on either side.

Powell said he plans to keep Zinni in the region for as long as it takes to secure a cease-fire. He was confident Zinni, who has a reputation as a no-nonsense negotiator, would get things underway.

“You’ll see what pushing and prodding is when Tony Zinni gets on the ground,” Powell told reporters after a recent speech.

  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1Q8n
  • Author Andreas Tzortzis
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/1Q8n