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Israel to Seize Palestinian Lands


19 June 2002

Israel will gradually reoccupy Palestinian areas until terrorism stops, the government announced Wednesday in a major policy change prompted by a deadly bus bombing. Israeli troops raided three West Bank towns from which dozens of terror attacks have been launched.

In one area the town of Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp troops were seen apparently preparing for an extended stay, bringing along mobile homes on flatbed trucks of the kind often used for setting up permanent positions.

There was no immediate U.S. response to Israel's dramatic decision to change the West Bank map and take another step toward toppling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, just as President Bush is preparing to announce plans for getting a Palestinian state off the ground.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adamantly opposes any form of Palestinian statehood at this time, and blames Arafat for failing to stop attacks.

White House officials said Tuesday's bombing in Jerusalem by the extremist Islamic group Hamas, which killed 19 Israelis, has delayed Bush's announcement until Thursday or Friday while the president completes his decisions and puts some distance between the attack and his announcement.

The Israeli decision to recapture Palestinian territory came after late-night consultations between Sharon and his coalition partners.

"Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing Palestinian Authority territory," Sharon's office announced. "These areas will be held as long as terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas."

Arafat aides said Israel's new policy would only cause further bloodshed, and push militias to carry out more attacks. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat accused Sharon of following a secret agenda of replacing the Palestinian Authority with full Israeli rule.

Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinians' West Bank security chief, said the Palestinians cannot cooperate with Israel now to arrest those behind suicide attacks.

"As long as the Israelis are continuing their invasion using their tanks, F-16s and Apaches (attack helicopters) there will be no arrests of any Palestinian," Rajoub told The Associated Press from Egypt, where he was meeting with officials about Palestinian security matters.

However, several dozen prominent Palestinians, led by legislator Hanan Ashrawi and the Palestinians' senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, signed a full-page newspaper ad urging groups behind deadly assaults on Israeli civilians to "stop sending our young people to carry out such attacks."

"We see no results in such attacks, but a deepening of the hatred between both peoples and a deepening of the gap between us," the ad in Al Quds newspaper said. It urged all Palestinians who support such a call to sign on to it.

In recent months, the United States has given Sharon relatively free rein in raiding Palestinian-held towns and villages in search of suspected extremists.

However, when Israel launched a major military offensive in March to crush Palestinian militias, Sharon came under U.S. pressure to wrap up the operation an indication Washington might take issue with the new policy as well.

Right-wing members of the Israeli government long have demanded Israel retake all areas handed to the Palestinians under interim peace accords in the mid-1990s, but the moderate Labor Party has resisted such a step.

Sharon told Cabinet ministers Tuesday that although he favored Arafat's expulsion, he would not override Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and the security chiefs who oppose such a step as counterproductive, Israeli media said.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday that security officials also were considering expelling Arafat aides.

Israeli government spokesman Arieh Mekel said the new policy was intended to jolt Arafat into finally acting against terror groups. Asked if Israel is moving to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, he said: "Hopefully, we won't get to this stage."

If Arafat does not understand the warning and there are more attacks, however, "we will take more and more of it (Palestinian areas) and it will lead to wherever it may lead," Mekel said.

Reconquering Palestinian-controlled land won't stop Palestinian attacks, according to Israeli military analyst Roni Shaked. "It would only be a question of time before the Palestinians would get used to the renewed occupation and terrorism would resume," he wrote Wednesday in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Tuesday's blast ripped the roof and sides of the bus, leaving it just a twisted skeleton in the middle of the busy street. Many of the dead were so badly mangled that identifications had not been completed a full day after the attack. Three of the dead and several of the 50-plus wounded were teen-agers heading to school.

Hamas identified the attacker as Mohammed al-Ghoul, 22, from a refugee camp near Nablus.

Late Tuesday, dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles moved into the West Bank town of Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp, both strongholds of Palestinian militias. The Jenin camp was the scene of the fiercest clashes in Israel's recent six-week military offensive, and both the town and the camp have been raided repeatedly by Israeli troops in the past 21 months of fighting.

Residents said Israeli troops set up mobile homes just west of town, took over a school in the refugee camp, forcing open doors with sledgehammers, and searched five apartment buildings. About 30 camp residents were arrested, witnesses said.

The Israeli military said troops took over commanding positions in the town, declared a curfew and arrested four suspects. They blasted their way into the administrative offices of Al Razi hospital, run by an Islamic charity affiliated with Hamas, and blew up a safe, according to hospital director Ali Jabareen.

Israeli troops also briefly raided the West Bank city of Nablus and arrested three suspects. Troops also entered Qalqiliya, just inside the West Bank, declared a curfew and searched for terror suspects, the military said.

Mark Lavie
Published by the Associated Press 2002 The Associated Press

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