PA system

International | MIDDLE EAST: Leaders of the Palestinian Authority are condemning last week's attack on Americans in Gaza, but U.S. officials say Palestinian leaders could have and should have done more to prevent it

Issue: "John Paul II: In memoriam," Oct. 25, 2003

PRESSURED TO TAKE TERROR seriously, Palestinian police last week arrested three members of a small militant group with a possible connection to a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy. A roadside bomb demolished an armor-plated vehicle carrying U.S. officials in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 15, killing three American security guards and wounding a fourth.

The three suspects in the attack are members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a group of dozens of armed men, including many former members of the Palestinian security forces and disgruntled followers of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. In spite of the arrests, the United States isn't letting Mr. Arafat off the hook in the first such attack on a U.S. target in the disputed territory. "Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," said President George W. Bush.

U.S. officials were reportedly traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza to interview Arab students who have applied for Fulbright scholarships. The bomb, apparently detonated by remote control, mangled the reinforced SUV driven by the U.S. delegation and gouged a deep crater in the road. The blast sprayed body parts and debris. A black shoe lay some yards away on the ground.

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The explosion took place about a mile south of Gaza's Erez checkpoint inside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority and near the Jabalya refugee camp. Last March the camp was the site of a major incursion by Israeli forces, which killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 140 during a tank raid on suspected terrorist enclaves.

For a while Middle East media carried reports that American envoy John Wolfe was injured or killed in the blast, raising speculation that he may have been a target. Mr. Wolfe, who supervised a security agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, was in Washington at the time of the attack.

Abu Dhabi TV reported that all militant Palestinian organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, issued statements condemning the bombing. The report quoted the groups saying that "despite the biased U.S. policy, the U.S. is not the enemy of the Palestinian people. Palestinian resistance aims at the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories." Islamic Jihad accused the Israeli government of carrying out the attack in order to incite the Bush administration to retaliate against the Palestinians.

Israel's Arutz-7 satellite network reported "confusion and embarrassment is the order of the day in the PA" as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat condemned the explosion. Senior PA officials Abu Ala and Saeb Erekat said they would launch an investigation involving American officials.

But U.S. officials believe the Palestinian Authority could have stopped the attack before it happened. Mr. Arafat "could dismantle the entire terrorist infrastructure today or this very hour," said U.S. Rep. Ileana

Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of a House International Relations Committee subcommittee on the Middle East. "He has already fired one prime minister, and is about to fire another, and is in charge of everything that goes on there. So for him to say that he condemns [the] attack is just ridiculous."

Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch said that the Palestinian Authority in its English-language statements presents itself as an American ally, "while its Arabic messages incite its people to hate and kill Americans." After the attack, he said, "official PA rushed to condemn the attack-even as the PA-controlled media continues its relentless campaign of anti-American indoctrination."

The attack took place just as Israeli and American delegates met at Jerusalem's King David Hotel to discuss alternatives to the Bush administration's roadmap to peace. Delegate Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, noted that for both Israel and the United States, "You cannot negotiate with someone committed to your destruction."


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