Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sharon Vows "No Restraints" In Stopping Violence

When reading the following article, from Associated Press, keep in mind, the Israelis are trying to leave the Gaza Strip. Why would the terrorists (Palestinian military) continue to attack Israelis when they are in the midst of attempting to effect the change the Palestinians say they want?:

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon issued his sternest warning yet to Palestinian militants on Sunday, promising no restraint in stopping an upsurge in violence that has left a Mideast truce in tatters ahead of Israel's Gaza Strip pullout.

Thousands of Israeli troops massed along the Gaza border and Israel Radio reported that Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz told Sharon's ministers that preparations for a possible ground strike were complete.

The Israeli air force fired missiles Sunday at a car in a region of northern Gaza used by Palestinian militants to launch rockets and mortars, witnesses said. The two men in the car escaped, but a bystander was seriously wounded, the witnesses said.

The Israeli military refused to comment.

The attack took place in Beit Lahiya, near the line between Gaza and Israel, a launching area for Palestinian militants firing rockets and mortars at Gaza settlements and Israeli towns and villages just outside the territory.

In recent days, Israel has renewed its practice of killing suspected militant with airstrikes.
Earlier, militants vowed to retaliate against any Israeli military assault.

The violence has cast a heavy pall over Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza and northern West Bank settlements next month and has sent international mediators scrambling to try to restore calm ahead of the pullout.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice changed her schedule to include a last-minute trip to the region later this week.

"I spoke to the heads of the defense establishment ... and informed them that there are to be no restraints on our operations," Sharon told Cabinet ministers at the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also said Israel would launch a "massive, prolonged and intricate" military strike if the Palestinian Authority doesn't curb militants who have been bombarding Israeli targets with rockets and mortar rounds in recent days, a meeting participant said.

Palestinian police, meanwhile, began removing Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah flags from the streets of Gaza, leaving only the Palestinian national flag. On Saturday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he would brook no challenges to his government's authority, and called on militants to stop their attacks.

A Palestinian suicide bombing and a rocket attack last week killed a total of six Israelis. Militants have fired more than 100 projectiles at Israeli targets since Thursday, in one of the heaviest onslaughts since the two sides declared a now-moribund truce in February.

Rockets and mortar rounds continued to hit Israeli targets on Sunday. Two Israelis were wounded seriously by a mortar that landed on a house in the Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim, rescue officials said. Hamas militants claimed responsibility for the attack.

Earlier Sunday, an Israeli sniper shot and killed a senior Hamas field commander in a targeted strike after another mortar round hit the same community, the army and Hamas officials said.

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Israel Radio earlier in the day that the military would decide soon whether to launch a ground offensive before or after Rice pays a snap visit to the region to try to halt the Palestinian attacks.

"It depends what will develop in the coming hours," Boim said. "It's a matter of hours. We will not suffer such a heavy rain of Qassam (rockets.)"

The army plans to invade northern Gaza — the area militants use to fire rockets at Sderot — a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive military plans. But he said the massing of thousands of soldiers along the border is meant more as a threat for the time being.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said an Israeli incursion into Gaza "will have a disastrous impact on the disengagement plan, and all efforts to make it a successful and smooth and peaceful disengagement."

Mushir Masri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said an Israeli incursion would touch off more violence.

"They should understand that by this serious escalation they have opened the gates of Hell, and if they enter Gaza we are not going to stand by silently," Masri said. Hamas, he said, was re-evaluating the truce,

An Egyptian delegation arrived in Gaza Sunday to try to salvage the tattered cease-fire. Masri said Hamas, which is to meet with the Egyptians later in the day, welcomed efforts to end the tension.

Mofaz postponed a trip to Washington because of the escalating violence, ministry officials said. Mofaz was to have left for the U.S. on Saturday, but now plans to go later in the week.

Israeli officials also were occupied with preventing Jewish extremists from disrupting next month's pullout.

Sharon told his Cabinet that "the severest possible measures" must be taken to prevent pullout opponents from entering Gaza in an effort to sabotage the evacuation, the Cabinet meeting participant said.

Settlers and their supporters plan a massive march and rally this week in defiance of last week's order to seal Gaza to nonresidents. Police official Uri Bar Lev said police would not authorize the protest because demonstrators plan to cross into Gaza.

Gaza was sealed last week to prevent withdrawal opponents from flooding the strip and tying up evacuation forces.

The evacuation also touched off dissidence within army ranks. Halutz ordered a 120-member company disbanded Sunday after nine of its soldiers refused to carry out orders to stop demonstrators from entering the Gaza settlement bloc, the military said in a statement.

Hundreds of settlers opposed to the dismantling of Gaza settlements clashed with police and soldiers overnight, leaving several injured on both sides by dawn Sunday.