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Israel Confirms Palestinian Attacks Declining - 2001-12-30

Israel's Army confirms there has been a decline in violent attacks in the past two weeks. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is still not doing enough to curb terrorism in order to set the stage for peace talks to resume.

Israel's Army issued statistics and a chart showing a reduction in violence following Mr. Arafat's televised address on December 16, calling for attacks to end.

The army says that the number of attacks carried out by Palestinians has dropped to an average of 11 per day, compared with 18 before Mr. Arafat's speech.

More than 40 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings and other attacks in the period leading up to Mr. Arafat's address.

But Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, says the drop in violence is the result of Israel's tough security measures and international pressure on Mr. Arafat to launch a crackdown on Palestinian militants.

Mr. Gissin says the Palestinian Authority has still not dismantled what he called the "terrorist infrastructure that fuels attacks."

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat criticised Mr. Sharon for failing to support the army's findings. Mr. Erekat says that is plain to see that the Palestinian Authority has made great progress towards restoring calm.

The relative quiet may also have set the stage for the return to the region of U.S. Mideast envoy, Anthony Zinni.

Mr. Zinni went back to Washington after his first mission coincided with an upsurge in the violence that has raged for the past 15 months.

Mr. Sharon is demanding seven days of complete quiet before any steps can be taken to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says Israel would be willing to renew peace talks with Syria if Damascus agrees to rein in the militant Islamic group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon and is believed to have the authority to order the Hezbollah to stop its cross-border attacks against Israel.