accepts a peace proposal, but Israeli officials questioned his sincerity as bloodshed overshadowed the Jewish Passover holiday.
"How do you want us to believe him?" wondered Raanan Gissin, a Senior Adviser of Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Gissin referred to what he called the "Passover massacre" on Wednesday, March 27, when 21 people died in a suicide bombing at a hotel in the northern Israeli coastal town of Netanya.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which is opposed to the peace process, claimed responsibility for the attack. In addition a gunman raided the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh Thursday, March 28, and killed three Jewish settlers before barricading himself in a settler’s home, Israeli officials said.
"They (the Palestinians) don’t respect our (Passover) holiday," added Gissin. "This (cease-fire announcement) is the moment of truth for someone who continuously lies" said Gissin who wants Arafat to arrest terrorists and stop the violence.
Speaking at a hastily arranged news conference Arafat said he wanted to end the attacks and "to reiterate our willingness for an immediate cease-fire." However "regrettably I have to tell you that there are Israeli plans to start a massive military operation against our people," he said.
There is concern that military action could undermine the Saudi land-for-peace proposal that was adopted in the Lebanese capital Beirut on Thursday, March 28, by Arab countries. In exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories, Arab nations would re-establish "normal relations, " which critics say does not mean a recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a state.
However Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told the Cable News Network that Arab states want a deal with Israel "that is exactly like the relationship between the Arab countries and any other state."
Apparently encouraged by the agreement, Arafat told reporters that he had notified United States MIDEAST envoy Anthoni Zinni that he is ready to implement, "without any conditions" a cease-fire plan laid out last year by CIA director George Tenet.
However Israeli Government official Gissin cautioned that Arafat has made this statement in the past. "He will be judged…not for his words but for his deeds," he said. Meanwhile many Christian tourists have stayed away to celebrate Easter, and many parents are reportedly reluctant to let their Jewish children board school buses for fear of new terrorist attacks.