Tags: Israel | Prepares | Strike | Gaza

Israel Prepares to Strike Gaza

Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM

Last month's Operation Defensive Shield, which Israeli said was designed to crush militants, was limited to the West Bank. The government had sought to strike in the Gaza Strip as well, but international pressure blocked it.

The new buildup comes quick on the heels of Tuesday's homicide-suicide bombing at a pool and gambling club in Rishon Le Ziyyon south of Tel Aviv in which 15 people were killed.

Some Israeli officials said they believed the bomber had come from the Gaza Strip. A caller, claiming to be from the radical Islamic Hamas, which has a strong presence in Gaza, said the organization was guilty of the attack.

However, the Israelis still do not know for sure where the bomber had come from. A military source Thursday told United Press International that so far the army had foiled all attacks originating in Gaza that were destined to take place deep inside Israel. Many suspected attackers were killed while trying to cross the electronic fence that encloses the strip.

Observers say the latest finger pointing at Gaza was most likely designed to pave the ground for a strike.

A Cabinet statement issued early Thursday did not shed any light on the government's intentions.

The brief statement said the Ministerial Committee on National Security authorized Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer "to decide on actions against terrorist targets."

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the ministers decided "to hit concentrations from which suicide attackers leave, or homes from which they set out, or cells where suicide (bombers) and others emerge."

The targets are "functional," not "territorial," he said.

Channel 2 TV said the strike would target the terrorist Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements in Gaza. Hamas has vowed to continue fighting Israel, and the group’s leadership including "spiritual leader" Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Salah Shehadeh, live there.

A military source said the army and the political echelon were still working on the plans. He would not say when the attack was due.

The source indicated the army was also making contingency plans for a large-scale operation in case the situation in Gaza deteriorates. The Gaza Strip is more crowded, the people are poorer, many are more militant, and refugee camps are several times bigger than Jenin, where Israel encountered fierce resistance last month.

The military source said there were many more attacks on Israelis in Gaza than in the West Bank; the latest intifada started in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government says there are more arms and explosives in the Gaza Strip compared with the West Bank partly because of local production - the first mortar bombs were produced there - and partly because of smuggling from Egypt. On two occasions, Palestinians have knocked out Merkava tanks in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians have also had much more time to prepare defenses, according to the Israeli government.

Prime Minister Sharon's media adviser, Raanan Gissin, stressed: "Israel will act where it ought to exercise its right to self-defense. We shall act wherever there will be a threat of terror.

"No one deluded himself that [Operation Defense Shield] completed the job."

The ministers were, however, divided on what Israel should do. "The vote was not unanimous," Industry Minister Daliah Itzik related. "You know how you get in, I am not sure [we] know how we get out, and I'm not sure the cost will be greater than the benefit," she said.

Opposition leader Yossi Sarid, of the dovish Meretz Party, warned that an incursion into Gaza "must end in a disaster. Whoever enters the most crowded area in the world knows the war against terror is on the civilian populations' back."

Sarid told UPI he expected many Palestinian and Israeli casualties and more hatred of Israel.

"The Palestinians consistently play into Sharon's hands" by launching militant attacks, he said. The bombing in Rishon Le Ziyyon came "at a good time" for Sharon. "When it presents itself, he knows how to take advantage of it."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Last month's Operation Defensive Shield, which Israeli said was designed to crush militants, was limited to the West Bank. The government had sought to strike in the Gaza Strip as well, but international pressure blocked it. The new buildup comes quick on the heels of...
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2002-00-09
Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM
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