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Mike Hanna: Terror attack thwarts peace initiatives

CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna
CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a crowded market in the northern Israeli town of Afula on Tuesday, killing at least two Israelis and injuring dozens. The shooting occurred as two U.S. envoys are touring the region and meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to forge an Israeli-Palestinian truce.

CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna gave the following report:

MIKE HANNA: Today two U.S. envoys begin their efforts to broker a peace in the region, part of a renewed U.S. initiative to secure a lasting peace, and as they were beginning these efforts, a terror attack (occurred) in the Israeli town of Afula, a northern town close to the West Bank.

More than 25 people have been injured and at least two Israelis were killed when, according to eyewitnesses, two Palestinian gunmen opened fire in a crowded market in the town of Afula -- the market near the bus station -- and, according to the eyewitnesses, the two Palestinians opened fire on the crowd with automatic weapons.

The two gunmen were shot and killed, reportedly by a border policeman who was in the area. One Israeli was killed immediately in the attack. Another Israeli died subsequently after being admitted to a hospital. This, yet another contravention of the cease-fire, yet another terror attack in an Israeli city, coming at a time when U.S. envoys are in the region to try and bring about a cease-fire on the ground.

These envoys -- William Burns, an Assistant Secretary of State for Mideast Affairs is accompanied by former Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. Now Mr. Zinni has a particular mandate from the U.S. secretary of state, and that is to work with the two parties to secure a cease-fire -- a lasting cease-fire on the ground.

According to the secretary of state, Mr. Zinni will stay in the region until his efforts bear some fruit. The creation of a cease-fire, the first step in getting both sides back to the negotiating table, where many efforts have been made in the past to secure a cease-fire, most of which have lasted for nearly a matter of days, let alone a matter of weeks.

So the efforts (are) underway, a new U.S. initiative in the region -- but as they begin yet another attack, more deaths in this ongoing conflict that has claimed some 1,000 lives in the past 14 months.

CNN: Has Israel pulled out of all the towns that it had entered?

HANNA: Yes, within the past five weeks Israel had occupied a number of Palestinian towns. This in the wake of the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister. However, the towns had been -- over a period of time Israel had withdrawn from these particular areas. The last town that it had occupied was that of Jenin, incidentally close to the Israeli town of Afula where today's attack took place, and Israeli forces reportedly moved out of that Palestinian-controlled town overnight.

Palestinians say that the withdrawal was "cosmetic," as they put it. However, Israel says that it has withdrawn its troops back from its positions in that Palestinian-controlled town. This (is) being interpreted as a gesture of goodwill to the U.S. envoys as they begin their mission here.

So the Israeli forces have moved out of Palestinian towns and cities that they've occupied. However, they do remain in large areas of the occupied territories and this occupation is seen by the Palestinians as a major stumbling block to any peace moves, and indeed a major source of ongoing violence. Israel says it will remain in those areas, in territory it had conquered in 1967, until a negotiation is completed with the Palestinians to decide from what areas Israel will withdraw for a permanent period.


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