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Terror attack ‘crossed a watershed’; Israel steps up military reaction

JERUSALEM (BP)–The June 18 deadly suicide bombing that claimed 19 lives in Jerusalem has prompted the Israeli government to seize Palestinian Authority-controlled land, a senior Israel diplomat said June 19, CNSNews.com reported.

Israeli troops and tanks moved into several Palestinian cities overnight, making arrests and encircling the cities to prevent the escape of terrorists.

In addition to the 19 deaths, more than 50 wounded when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a crowded city bus during the morning rush hour. The dead included students on their way to school and commuters on their way to work.

It was the most deadly attack in Jerusalem since 1996.

“We crossed a watershed in Palestinian terrorism [in the attack],” said Daniel Taub, director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry general law division.

Until now, Israeli security measures have been more narrowly focused operations, in which troops when into PA areas, made arrests or carried out specific operations and then left, said Taub in a telephone interview with CNSNews.com.

From now on, Israel will remain in PA areas for longer periods of time and not feel obligated to leave quickly, Taub said. But it doesn’t mean Israel is obligated to stay in those areas either, he added.

In an overnight meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon joined leaders of his government’s political parties and top security officials in deciding that Israel would take military action for terror attacks, including seizing and holding on to Palestinian Authority-controlled territory until terrorism stops.

“Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing PA territory. These areas will be held by Israel as long as terror continues,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

“Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas.”

Palestinian officials condemned the new Israeli policy, saying it would only breed more violence.

“The Israeli decision to reoccupy Palestinian territories and settle inside them represents an open invitation to the Palestinian people and to all Palestinian factions to practice all sorts of resistance against occupation,” Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, senior aide to PA leader Yasser Arafat, was quoted as saying.

“Any resistance,” he said, would now be considered “legitimate and accepted by all Palestinians.”

PA minister Saeb Erekat accused Sharon of wanting to “end the peace process, destroy the Palestinian Authority, replace it with the [Israeli] civil administration and to press ahead with the occupation.”

Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, spokesman for the militant group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the June 18 attack, responded to the Israeli decision by vowing to continue the armed struggle.

“Palestinians have either to resist the occupation and pay the price, which can be heavy, or to surrender to the occupation and live humiliated forever,” Rantissi was quoted as saying. “I think the Palestinian people have decided to resist until the last drop of blood.”

But Taub insisted that Israel has no desire to “run the lives of the Palestinians.”

One of the achievements of the peace process was that 98 percent of Palestinians came under Palestinian control, which Israel had hoped they would use to build institutions, a legal system and a concern for the well-being of Palestinians, Taub said.

“The point has to be made that all the territories [in question] were transferred to the Palestinians over the last 10 years,” he said. It was done so through agreements on the condition that the Palestinians would arrest terrorists, confiscate illegal weapons and end incitement against Israel, he added.

“We don’t want to take them under control, but we have to do what they are not doing [i.e. fighting terror],” Taub said.

Israel’s policy decision comes on the eve of a major Middle East policy speech by President Bush, in which he is expected to announce the establishment of a “provisional” Palestinian state as early as September.

“Provisional” or “temporary” refers to declaring a state based on land already held by the Palestinians, with discussions on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements coming later.

The Palestinians and Israel have both rejected the idea.

On June 19, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan reportedly met in Amman and rejected the plan to establish an interim Palestinian state.

Taub rejected the idea that the new Israeli policy collided with the aims of the upcoming Bush speech.

“It is what President Bush needs to be telling the Palestinians,” Taub said. “‘If you want to become a state, start acting like one.'”

There was no apparent shift overnight in Israel’s mode of operation for the last two months.

Israel continued its sweep and arrest operations into PA-controlled areas, moving troops and tanks into Jenin and Nablus and arresting seven wanted militants in the two cities.

The troops were still operating in Jenin and Kalkilya June 19, an army spokesperson said. Another six wanted militants were arrested overnight in Hebron, the nearby village of Dura and Umm Salmouna, a village near Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, construction on a controversial anti-terror barrier had to be halted temporarily June 19 after Palestinian gunmen fired on the construction crew and border policemen.

“An explosion occurred and then the Palestinians started firing,” police spokesman Gil Kleiman reported.

The border policemen guarding the tractor, which was working on the fence, returned fire. They then discovered another bomb, which was diffused, Kleiman said.

The fence, an obstacle to terror, is being built along the 1949 armistice line between Israel and Jordan. Known as the “green line,” the invisible boundary divides between Israel proper and the West Bank.

Palestinians fear that the barrier will carve up the West Bank land from which they hope to make a state, leaving them with only a series of cantons. Israeli officials say the fence is vital to stave off terror attacks.
Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Julie Stahl