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Palestinians Hopeful a Lasting Cease-fire is Still Possible - 2002-03-23

Back-to-back suicide bombings inside Israel have cast a shadow over U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire aimed at ending 18 months of bloodshed. Israelis are terrorized by the attacks and Palestinians traumatized by Israel's retaliatory military strikes. VOA Correspondent Laurie Kassman was in Gaza earlier in the week and reports on the mixture of hope and skepticism that a long-lasting cease-fire can be implemented.

The central market is bustling again. Shops have reopened. Residents are venturing out into the streets of Jubaliya refugee camp now that the Israeli tanks have pulled back and the air strikes have ended.

Still, a jet flying overhead provokes worried looks. The sound of a jet breaking the sound barrier causes many to jump with fear. Each time there is a suicide attack inside Israel, they say, Israel's military strikes back.

Most Gazans say they are saddened by the loss of life on both sides and anxiously await a cease-fire that could herald a period of calm.

Abu Hassan lives and works in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip. He remembers the terror he and his family felt when the Israeli tanks rumbled into the area last week.

"In my opinion, the intifada must continue until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian lands," he says. "And then Yasser Arafat will have to stop those who are resisting and collect their weapons. Not before," Abu Hassan insists.

He says his children still cannot sleep through the night and often wake up screaming with fear.

That fear, according to psychiatrist Eyad Seraj, is experienced on both sides - by Palestinians under siege and Israelis attacked by suicide bombers. He believes both sides are so terrorized and exhausted now, they are ready to make peace.

"On the popular levels in Israel and Palestine, they are exhausted because they have reached that balance of terror," said Mr. Seraj. "They are both susceptible and ready for it [peace]. And the international community is ready and the Europeans are strong for it. The Americans, for the first time, have introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution themselves. [U.S. envoy Anthony] Zinni is here instructed to stay in the area and not to leave."

Mr. Zinni has been trying to broker a truce to end the violence, but his efforts have been endangered by a series of Palestinian terrorist attacks inside Israel.

But Ismail Abu Shenab says attacks against Israelis are part of Palestinian resistance to occupation. Mr. Shenab is a political leader in Hamas, a group listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. "It is a deadly game but we have to pay the price because we have no other alternative," he said. "Sharon pushed us toward this type of game, and we have to face it. We will not surrender."

After the latest spate of terrorist attacks inside Israel, the U.S. government is heaping more pressure on Yasser Arafat to rein in the militants. President Bush has said Mr. Arafat must do much more to stop the violence, and has said a meeting between Mr. Arafat and Vice President Dick Cheney will not take place unless he does. Mr. Zini's cease-fire plan does not, by itself, end the Israeli occupation but its promoters hope it will provide a period of calm that could pave the way for resuming peace talks.

The plan requires Israeli troops to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza, but it also requires the Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for preventing more terrorist attacks against Israelis. The argument now is over which comes first.