Israeli tanks prepare to seize West Bank land from Arafat : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

November 26 2000 MIDDLE EAST

Israeli tanks prepare to seize West Bank land from Arafat

Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv

ISRAELI tank and infantry brigades began training last week for the possible reoccupation of three areas of the West Bank ruled by Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

Should the order be given, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) would move army units into Palestinian neighbourhoods that border Israeli settlements. The aim would be to create buffer zones to stop Palestinian gunmen attacking Jewish settlers.

Such a move could cost both lives and international support. Palestinian police would defend the areas ferociously. International condemnation would follow because Israel would be recapturing territory from which it withdrew under the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, brokered by the Americans.These areas are now fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, led by Arafat.

Last Thursday the Israeli cabinet authorised Ehud Barak, the prime minister, to take the "necessary military decisions" without calling further on the cabinet. "We must understand that we are in a state of war with the Palestinians and we should act accordingly," said Dalya Itzik, a cabinet minister.

Ten thousand Israeli soldiers are already deployed across the West Bank and Gaza, more than the number of troops in southern Lebanon before Israel's withdrawal earlier this year. To allow the regular army time to train, thousands more reserve soldiers last week re-ceived "call-up decree number 8" papers, which are normally distributed only in emergencies.

Soldiers in the elite Merkava tank and Golani infantry brigade, veterans of battles with Hezbollah fundamentalists in the former Lebanese security zone, have started training on replicas of the areas marked for reoccupation at a military base in the Negev desert. The areas the IDF has targeted are heavily populated and the battles could degenerate into urban warfare.

The first, and for the military the most important, is several hundred metres of the northwestern neighbourhood of Beit Jallah, a Christian Palestinian town near Bethlehem.

In the past six weeks Palestinian gunmen have been shooting from this area toward Gilo, a Jewish settlement south of Jerusalem on West Bank land that Israel seized in 1967.

Palestinians consider the settlement a Jewish colony built on their land. To Israelis, it is part of Jerusalem.

IDF soldiers have fired shells into frontline homes in Beit Jallah, and a German doctor was killed in one of the Israeli attacks as he ran to help an injured neighbour. IDF sources said the soldiers training to take over this area would evacuate it. Palestinians would be sure to attack the Israeli posts.

The second area that the Israelis plan to reoccupy is an area east of the West Bank town of Ramallah, bordering on the settlement of Pesagot. This comes under Palestinian fire almost nightly. Israeli return fire has pock-marked most of the homes in the neighbourhood and many people move their children to safer places at night.

Many of the inhabitants hold American passports, having returned only since the Oslo agreement, or work in the Palestinian Authority. They would be vocal in their condemnation.

A third area earmarked for reoccupation is on the western outskirts of Ramallah, around the village of Betunia, from which there is daily firing on Jewish settlers. "The Palestinians are not a serious military force, but we must train seriously," an Israeli officer said. "If and when the order is given, the Palestinians will fight for their homes and it won't be a Sunday morning stroll."

Israel is under pressure to respond to demands for more forceful action to quell the Palestinian uprising, which has lasted two months. There is no sign of the violence abating.

In a telephone call brokered by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, Arafat and Barak agreed on Friday to resume minimal security co-operation, but the death toll mounted.

On the same day a Jewish settler was shot dead near the town of Nablus and two Palestinians were killed in clashes on the West Bank. Two Israelis were killed when a car bomb exploded in Hadera, north of Tel Aviv. Yesterday, three more Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 25, 2000

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