Efforts toward a truce to stop three years of bloody Israeli-Palestinian violence were resuming in the shadow of Hamas threats for revenge after a botched Israeli air strike in Gaza, with Israeli security forces on high alert.
Osama el-Baz, top aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was due in the West Bank yesterday for talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, part of Egyptian efforts to forge a cease-fire.
With Egyptian help, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has been trying for weeks to forge a truce agreement among Palestinian factions, but without success. Qureia hoped to present Palestinian agreement to the Israelis in his first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, pressuring the Israelis to go along. However, failure of Palestinian truce efforts has led to postponement of the summit.
The threat of attacks was in the air as Israeli forces went on high alert for the New Year, setting up roadblocks and patrolling highways and popular gathering spots. Last week Israeli security warned about a mega-terror attack timed for the New Year, listing possible targets like schools, public buildings and holy sites.
The level of public edginess was evident Wednesday afternoon when a bus blew a tire in Tel Aviv, sending the city into a near-panic and triggering special radio station broadcasts in a terror attack mode.
In the West Bank late Wednesday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian who was in a group of youths throwing rocks at Israeli cars on a road west of Nablus, relatives said. The military said the youth was building a stone barrier across the road.
Also, the military expelled a Palestinian, 25-year-old Mustafa Abed from a refugee camp next to Nablus, to the Gaza Strip late Wednesday.