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Israeli tanks massed outside Bethlehem

WebPosted Tue Aug 14 19:43:57 2001 BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK-- A day after a night-time raid on the Palestinian-controlled city of Jenin, Israeli tanks early Wednesday local time massed outside Palestinian villages near the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

A Reuters reporter said there was an exchange of gunfire between Israelis and Palestinians near the Palestinian towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala.

Bulldozed building in Jenin

In the latest operation, Israeli tanks have not yet entered Palestinian-controlled regions of the West Bank. Late Monday night, Israeli tanks and troops entered Jenin, used armoured bulldozers to flatten a police station, then pulled out after three hours.

FROM AUG. 8, 2001: Suicide bomber targets Israeli restaurant

FROM AUG. 9, 2001: Israel retaliates for latest suicide bombing

The midnight raid on Jenin was in response to recent Palestinian suicide bombings. The two bombers are believed to be from Jenin.

The Palestinian Authority called the Israeli raid on Jenin a "declaration of war."

United States President George W. Bush Tuesday urged restraint on both sides, calling the current situation in the Middle East a "caldron of violence."

Speaking to reporters at a youth camp in Colorado, Bush said, "I feel very strongly about it because I'm worried about the cycle of violence continuing to escalate. It's not good for that part of the world nor is it good for the rest of the world."

Copyright 2000 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

-- Martin Thompson (, August 14, 2001


from the August 15, 2001 edition -

As tanks roll, Israeli aims unclear

Israeli tanks entered a Palestinian city early yesterday, destroying the police headquarters and other buildings.

By Ben Lynfield | Special to The Christian Science Monitor

JENIN, WEST BANK - Israel's first military incursion into the heart of a Palestinian-ruled city raises the Mideast conflict to a new level. But it also leaves in its wake doubts in Israel over what, if anything, was achieved.

"The government was trying to signal how vulnerable the Palestinian Authority is, and that the army is undeterred by the question of entering PA areas, and that the Palestinians have no real sanctuary - that the army can get them wherever they are by air and land," said Menachem Shalev, political correspondent for Ma'ariv daily newspaper.

The specter of columns of tanks plowing through a West Bank city was the most formidable display of Israel's ground forces since Palestinians gained self-rule in 1994. It also underscores the difficulties Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government is having in responding to the continuation of Palestinian suicide attacks, the most recent of which occurred Sunday night near Haifa, wounding 15 people.

Yesterday's raid, described as a warning to the Palestinian Authority to "stop the terrorism," did not result in any fatalities. Four Palestinian policemen were wounded during the incursion, which ended with a pullout of all the Israeli troops. The PA termed it a "declaration of war" and called on the UN security council to provide Palestinians with protection from the Israeli army.

As soon as the dust settled yesterday, leading Israeli analysts began to question how destroying a few empty buildings could possibly stop the onslaught of suicide bombings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad that Israel has been facing, and for which it blames the PA for not cracking down on militants.

"People will now be asking 'What good did this achieve? Did the Palestinians gain from it? Did it achieve the opposite of what was intended?' They have made a big bang here that ended with a whimper." says Mr. Shalev.

In the attack near Haifa on Sunday evening, the bomber, Mohammed Mahmoud Nasser, had been a policeman in Jenin before quitting his post and joining the Islamic Jihad.

Israeli army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz said yesterday that Jenin was targeted because it had become a "city of bombers" from Islamic Jihad. Israeli officials say nine suicide attacks emanated from Jenin since the start of the uprising.

Dore Gold, an adviser to Mr. Sharon, told Reuters: "This was not an act of revenge. This was an act of accountability. Israel has sent a signal to the PA: Stop the terrorism, stop it now."

But Palestinians who gathered around what until Monday night was a plaza, said the raid would have no deterrent effect at all. Some policemen said it would simply fuel further violence.

"This was our square until last night," said Palestinian police corporal Nimr Jaradat, pointing around him to rubble and the remnants of an 87-by-55-yard complex that was largely destroyed. A mosque that had been used by the 300 policemen who slept in the facility is now a heap of rubble.

According to Mr. Jaradat, two Israeli bulldozers, accompanied by 10 tanks, ploughed into the police complex as helicopters swirled overhead. He and the other police, anticipating an Israeli military action, had fled before the tanks arrived, leveling the police headquarters. Eyewitnesses said the Israelis remained inside their vehicles throughout the raid.

"Of course, I ran. I have nothing with which to combat tanks and helicopters," Jaradat said.

"This is a savage way of acting, barbaric," said Burhan Mahameed, a local resident. These people do not seek peace. On the contrary, they always escalate the situation."

Asked whether he expects further suicide attacks, Mahameed responded: "What do you expect? We hate these attacks, but you cannot judge someone who wants to avenge his relatives, his brother, his mother."

Joseph Alpher, former deputy director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, voiced doubts about the incursion: "The question about all of this is: Does it have a deterrent effect on the Palestinians? I don't think so. It doesn't achieve a thing, because it is not part of a clear, consistent strategy for ending this [conflict]. Sharon does not have such a strategy, whether it is political or military."

Mr. Alpher noted that in several recent actions, there have been no Palestinian fatalities, reflecting, he says, "a strong consciousness that fighting the public relations war is an important part of this war."

In the Jerusalem area, three Palestinians and one Israeli were reported wounded during shooting exchanges between the Palestinian town of Beit Jala and the Jewish settlement of Gilo. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the army might soon launch an incursion into Beit Jala, which neighbors Bethlehem. "It is very possible we will be compelled to carry out a land operation, and I expect that the response will be similar to that which was carried out in Jenin - a broad, massive operation, with consequences in Bethlehem too," he told Army Radio.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 14, 2001.

'This is now a comprehensive war,' says police chief surveying wreckage of Jenin By Robert Fisk in Jenin, West Bank 15 August 2001 'T'was not a famous victory'.

The Israelis, Palestinian minister Saeb Erekat told us, had "thrown open "the gates of hell". With only slightly less hysteria, the Palestinian Authority called Israel's destruction of Jenin's police headquarters a "declaration of war".

And when I talked to the Palestinian chief of police, he described to me a four-hour gun-battle during which hundreds of Palestinian "nationalist fighters" drove the Israeli enemy out of the city. They had fought off four tanks. Which later became six tanks. And later again, eight Israeli tanks. But you had merely to walk through the rubble of Brigadier Louai Jadallah's police compound to realise this was no epic battle.

Not for the Palestinians. Nor for the Israelis. Indeed, the only gate around was the crushed red, black, white and green iron barrier which the Israeli bulldozers had ground into the muck by the main road. The headquarters of the anti-riot squad had been demolished along with the governor's office; a row of police dormitories were semi- pulverised, the other half sagging Salvador Dali-style into the dirt.

It was punishment, so the Israelis said, for the Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in Haifa on Sunday. Nine of the suiciders had started their journeys from Jenin mercifully, not all of them were successful and Israel blamed the Palestinian Authority.

So off we went again. Sunday's Palestinian bomber was retaliating for the Israeli murder of an Islamic Jihad member in April, and Israel's mini-invasion of Jenin was retaliation for the Sunday bombing and now Hamas, of course, was yesterday promising retaliation for the destruction of the Jenin police station. If the bloody logic behind all this verged on the juvenile, the rhetoric was unstoppable.

"Brutal aggression," Brigadier Jadallah called it, a "pre-planned attack on the Palestinian people". He described helicopters dropping flares, tank columns crashing into western Jenin, F-16 fighters flying cover for this armoured behemoth.

Or so the good brigadier would have us believe. The Israelis certainly destroyed the police compound Brigadier Jadallah's offices were the only ones left and they had crumpled the governor's house into dust. But there were no casualties on either side and I was a bit sceptical about all those bullets that had been fired for four hours.

Why, for example, was there not a single shell-hole in any of the wrecked buildings? Or a single bullet hole? Or a single cartridge case lying on the main road outside? Just by the wreckage stood an old pick-up truck covered in dust. It must have been there for a year. But it didn't have a scratch on it.

So I had my doubts about the fierce gun-battle. And I had the same doubts about the "eight" tanks. There were track marks on the road and there must have been three or four Merkavas (Israeli tanks) moving as cover for the armoured bulldozers. They arrived after midnight and probably took four hours to complete their vandalism. But battle, I suspect, there was none.

The Israelis travelled just 500 metres into Palestinian territory a gross violation of Area 'A' under the Oslo agreement, but hardly the full-scale invasion of the whole town which was reported at dawn.

No, in Jenin, there was anger, not blood. Brigadier Jadallah, graduate of the Rumanian and Egyptian police academies and of the Algerian Military College (1968) with paratrooper wings and survivor of the 1982 Beirut seige was apoplectic. "How can the Israelis expect me to arrest the so-called bombers when they've destroyed my police station?" he demanded.

So why did the Israelis do this? "They want to paralyse our institutions and the Palestinian Authority is the target," he replied, his voice rising higher and higher in fury.

"Our job in Palestine is to keep internal order. So what have the Israelis done? They attacked all our police stations in Gaza, in Ramallah too, in order to create a security vacuum, to create chaos. They want a split between the Palestinian Authority and the people who will no longer feel secure."

Given the Israeli venom currently being voiced against Yassir Arafat and his "gang of murderers", the brigadier's analysis is not without merit. And precisely the same argument has been outlined in the Israeli press.

But what about the suicide bombers? Do nine of them not come from Jenin?

What about the men whom Israel murdered, he replied, whom Israel claimed to be bombers and who turned out to be innocent?

"They are the ones who are pushing people to do suicide bombings.

"We are against killing civilians anywhere but violence begets violence. We can't put a person in a cage and close the cage on him." It was a slightly unnerving reply.

Then into the office strode the uniformed figure of Brigadier Fayez Arafat a relative of Y. Arafat, Esq who is commander of the entire region surrounding Jenin.

"There is a part of the Palestinian people," he said, "who are convinced that the Israeli enemy will not be convinced except through strong attacks. We are alone in this battle, but we have a strong national unity."

Which means that the Palestinian Authority is not going to allow its people to break apart in civil war by arresting members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad at the behest of Israel.

Which is what the destruction of the Jenin police station was all about. As Brigadier Arafat said, "this is now a comprehensive war" That's one thing upon which both he and the Israelis would agree.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 14, 2001.

An Israeli point of view, from Isreal Insider hyperlink:

Countdown to another Palestinian catastrophe

By Avi Davis August 14, 2001

As Israeli troops stormed Orient House in East Jerusalem on Friday, those moderate Palestinian Arabs with long memories must have been visited by a deep sense of foreboding. While the Israeli action could be seen by the less sophisticated as a hurried political retaliation to a suicide bombing, those who know the Israelis are viewing it for what it really represents: the beginning of the end. The Israelis did not choose to strike at Palestinian centers of terrorism in Ramallah, Nablus or Gaza City to make their statement. They chose a location that has come to be seen by both the Palestinians and the rest of the world as a de facto Palestinian foreign ministry and a symbol of prospective nationhood.

To be sure, the Israeli action did not violate any internationally sanctioned agreements or, let it be said, international law. The Israeli-Palestinian agreements specifically provide that Jerusalem is excluded from Palestinian jurisdiction (Interim Agreement Article XVII.1). Moreover, the Interim Agreement states that all PA offices can only be located in areas under Palestinian territorial jurisdiction in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza (Interim Agreement Article I.7). Understood in this way, the operation of Orient House as a locus of Palestinian political activity was always implicitly illegal and its sequestration was a legitimate exercise of Israeli sovereignty on property over which it has claimed jurisdiction for 33 years.

Yet the action has deep implications for the future of the Palestinian people. The Israelis have husbanded their power for months as their citizens have been picked off on Israel's roads. It is no secret that the Israeli military is well honed for an all out confrontation with the Palestinian militia. Its intelligence services and its army are keyed for a sweep that will result in elimination of the Palestinians' military capacity in less than 72 hours. It is only the risk of international opprobrium and retribution that has stayed the government's hand.

But support for that kind of restraint now seems to be quickly eroding. Arafat's continued failure to rein in terror and his surreptitious advocacy of violence has inexorably impelled the conflict to a point of no return. Having sided with terrorists and advocates of violence, he has progressively conceded the moral high ground to the Israelis to such an extent that he often appears to be knowingly plunging the Palestinian cause towards catastrophe.

In doing so, Arafat is tragically re-treading the steps of successive Palestinian leaders over the course of a century. In 1939, the Palestinian Arab leaders rejected the British White Paper which advocated the creation of an Arab state in 78% of Palestine. Not only did they reject it, but their subsequent open support for Hitler in the Second World War spurred British alienation, resulting in the U.K.'s support for a less favorable partition plan in 1947. In that year the UN Partition plan advocated the creation of two states with 70% of habitable Palestine allocated to the Arabs. Once again, the Palestinian leaders rejected the plan and then urged a war of elimination for which they we re in all essentials unprepared. It resulted in flight, dispersion and loss of territory that is grieved until this day as their 'Nakba' or disaster.

In 1967, an Arab war, egged on by the newly formed P.L.O., resulted in one of the most devastating routs in world history, with Israeli conquests in the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai almost tripling the Jewish state's size. The Israelis, in what was possibly the most magnanimous gesture of any government since, then offered to return that territory for recognition, negotiation and peace. The Arab nations, meeting in Khartoum in August 1967, were unequivocal in their rejection. The three nos became the high water mark of Arab obduracy. It doomed the region to further bloodshed and led to a succession of pointless wars.

Many who observed Arafat's peripatetic wanderings from Washington to other foreign capitals in the 90s, were gripped by the illusion that the Palestinians had finally been rewarded with a leader who understood the historic opportunities that lay before him. But those reading translations of his speeches in Arabic knew better. As one of his greatest boosters, former U.S Ambassador Martin Indyk has now attested, Arafat never forswore violence. In fact his Arabic speeches over the past eight years, calling for jihad, differ little in either content or fury from those of his predecessors 70 years ago.

The devastating effect that this has had on Israeli trust and confidence cannot be understated. It has turned the clock back 25 years, destroyed the peace movement and left a residue of bitterness that may be indelible. But the true tragedy remains that Arafat's recalcitrance has brought the crushing weight of history down on the Palestinians themselves. Cursed for decades with corrupt, vainglorious and incompetent leadership, they are victims of political chicanery who have once again been brought to the very brink of the abyss. 2001 Koret Communications Ltd. All rights reserved. Fair Use for Education and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert A Riggs (, August 15, 2001.

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