RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Sixty prominent Palestinian officials and intellectuals on Thursday urged the public to refrain from retaliation for Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ founder, saying it would ignite a new round of bloodshed that would only hurt Palestinian aspirations for independence.
The half-page advertisement in the PLO’s Al-Ayyam newspaper called on Palestinians to lay down their arms and turn to peaceful means of protest to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The ad reflected growing sentiment among many Palestinian leaders and intellectuals that military struggle is not helping the Palestinian cause. Thousands of Palestinians have died during 3 1/2 years of fighting with Israel. Similar calls in the past have had little impact on public opinion, and Thursday’s ad was greeted with little enthusiasm by ordinary Palestinians.
Hamas’ founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was killed in an Israeli air strike on Monday, prompting an unprecedented outpouring of outrage on Palestinian streets. Hamas has promised to strike back, saying even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a target.
Israeli troops have engaged Palestinian militants in isolated gunfights since Yassin’s killing, but there has been no major escalation in violence.
Still, Israelis are jittery, and security has been beefed up throughout the country and at diplomatic missions abroad.
Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings over the past three and a half years, killing more than 300 Israelis, according to Israeli officials.
On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers stopped a 16-year-old Palestinian youth with a suicide bomb vest strapped to his body at a crowded West Bank checkpoint, setting off a tense encounter with soldiers.
Pictures of the boy, identified as Hussam Abdo, appeared on the front pages of all major Israeli newspapers Thursday, and the incident dominated radio newscasts. Overnight, Israel arrested two of Abdo’s classmates, Palestinian sources said.
Several teenagers have carried out suicide bombings, and there has been recent concern in Israel that militant groups were turning to younger attackers to try to frustrate Israeli security checks.
The family of the teenager, identified as Hussam Abdo, said he was gullible and easily manipulated. Many Palestinians on Thursday said they believed the incident had been staged by Israel.
In new violence, several Israeli tanks moved back into an areas of the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip late Wednesday, where some structures were razed earlier in the day.
Military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was a similar, limited operation. An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a group of militants, residents said, and a policeman was wounded. Palestinians said 15 buildings were wholly or partly demolished.
The Israeli forces withdrew early Thursday, a military spokeswoman said.
The intellectuals who signed Thursday’s ad – including lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi and Abbas Zaki, a leading member of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement – said revenge attacks would lead to strong Israeli retaliation and further hurt the Palestinian cause.
The group called on the public to “rise again in a peaceful, wise Intefadeh (uprising).”
Some Palestinians said they were skeptical that the ad would be greeted with a similar call for restraint by Israelis, noting that Israel has announced plans to kill all militant leaders.
“We had many previous experiences with the Israelis,” said Ahmed Radi, 32. “There was a truce with Israel, but Israel has not stopped its aggression.”
The Yassin killing was part of Sharon’s effort to crush Hamas ahead of a possible Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Both Israel and the Palestinians are trying to claim victory ahead of the proposed pullout.
Sharon has suggested pulling out of Gaza as part of a plan to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians in the absence of a peace agreement. The plan is expected to include a limited pullback from the West Bank, where Israel would impose a boundary with the Palestinians.
An Israeli delegation – including Sharon’s bureau chief Dov Weisglass and National Security Adviser Giora Eiland – is in Washington this week to discuss the separation plan. On Wednesday, the Israeli team presented one scenario, showing the Americans a map in which six West Bank settlements would be removed in addition to most Gaza communities, an official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he emphasized that no decision has been made yet on which option to implement.
Despite several days of relative quiet, both Israelis and Palestinians seemed to be bracing for a new outbreak of bloodshed following the killing of Yassin, Hamas’ elderly spiritual leader.
On Wednesday, Hamas leaders pledged to hit back at Israel and target Sharon for death. However, the group said it is not targeting the United States, backing off earlier threats against Americans.
NOTE: Too bad the ordinary Palestinians don’t listen to this, it would be a good way to go.