Peres tries to rein in Israeli army
Suzanne Goldenberg in Nablus, West Bank
After agreeing on a ceasefire with the Palestinians, Israel's leading dove, Shimon Peres, is poised to embark on a new peacekeeping mission - with the Israeli army.
Mr Peres is to hold a "reconciliation meeting" as early as tomorrow with the army's chief of staff, General Shaul Mofaz, and his deputy, Maj-Gen Moshe Yaalon, after deep divisions between his foreign ministry and the military became embarrassingly public.
Aides of Mr Peres have accused the army of damaging Israel's image, and seeking to wreck the ceasefire he brokered last week with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, by opening fire on stonethrowing protesters.
In an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth yesterday, Mr Peres defended Mr Arafat, commenting: "With all the criticism of Arafat, he is the only Palestinian who recognises the map in which Jordan and Israel exists."
The paper went on to report that Mr Peres was convinced that Gen Yaalon had decided to "liquidate Arafat", but Mr Peres' spokesman said the report was untrue.
Seventeen Palestinians have been killed since last week's truce, threatening to inflame tensions in the Arab world at a time when Washington is trying to build a broad war coalition. Two of them were shot dead on their way to work on Sunday when a convoy of Palestinian taxis came under fire from Israeli soldiers at an unmarked road block.
The ceasefire was further undermined yesterday morning when a car bomb, studded with bullets and nails, exploded in a car park in Jewish west Jerusalem. Nobody was injured in the explosion, which al-Jazeera television in Qatar reported was claimed by the radical Islamic Jihad.
However, the car bomb - the first attack inside the Jewish state since the latest ceasefire - is certain to deepen the conviction among the Israeli right and sections of the military that Mr Peres is dangerously misguided to seek a truce with Mr Arafat.
"A ceasefire with car bombs is not a ceasefire that is acceptable for the people of Israel," said Dore Gold, a spokesman for the Israeli government.
At the same time, however, there are growing signs of disquiet with the army's operations in the West Bank and Gaza - including the use of live fire against unarmed protesters and "surprise" checkpoints in the West Bank at which the two Palestinian labourers were killed.
The labourers were travelling by night through the West Bank in a convoy of four yellow taxis, which ferry illegal workers from the refugee camps of Nablus to their jobs in Israel. When they reached a crude barricade near the town of Salit al-Daha, which is under Palestinian control, one of the passengers got down to clear the road. From the darkness, an Israeli soldier yelled at him to get back in the car.
The taxi driver rolled down the window to ask if he should turn back. The soldiers told him to get back into the car, according to one of the passengers, Mohammed Abu Leil, 16. "Seconds later bullets came flying from us in every direction." The 16 passengers tried to flee on foot, but the shooting continued, he said.
The Israeli army has admitted firing on the vehicles, and said it was investigating the shooting.