- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel
called up reservists on Thursday and Palestinians steeled themselves for
possible attack after the Israeli government gave the army the go-ahead
to hit back for a suicide bombing this week.
- Israel gave no word on when or where it might launch
any action, but Palestinian leaders urged it to avoid a strong response
such as its recent devastating West Bank offensive.
- Tuesday's suicide bombing, which killed 15 Israelis in
a club near Tel Aviv, threatened to trigger a new phase of violence and
compounded obstacles to arranging an international conference on how to
end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raging since September 2000.
- The 38-day Israeli siege of Bethlehem's Church of the
Nativity went on despite the efforts of negotiators. The latest solution
involved a European Union agreement for various European countries to take
the wanted Palestinians inside the shrine, an Italian government source
in Rome said.
- Cyprus said Thursday night it had agreed to take for
a few days 13 wanted Palestinian militants holed up in the church but there
were still issues to be resolved before they left the shrine, revered by
Christians as the birthplace of Jesus.
- Acting on a pledge by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat
to arrest those responsible for the bombing, Palestinian police in Gaza
took the unusual step of arresting 14 members of the Islamic militant faction
- But Arafat's actions, under U.S. and Israeli pressure,
was unlikely to avert an Israeli military response to the deadliest bombing
since the army stormed into Palestinian-ruled towns in the West Bank five
weeks ago after earlier suicide bombings.
- Hamas has not confirmed it was behind Tuesday's attack.
- A government statement gave no details of what military
operations had been approved. But it said the security cabinet had empowered
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to
decide what action to take.
- RESERVISTS CALLED UP
- The 163,000-strong army began calling up reservists and
inducting them into their units.
- "We'll do whatever we have to," one reservist
in a camp outside the Gaza Strip told Israeli television. "I hope
it will be OK, that we go in quietly and get out in one piece. We're ready
to go in whenever Sharon says."
- Many Palestinians expected Israeli forces to hit the
Gaza Strip after Israeli media said the bomber was thought to have come
from the small, poor territory bordering Egypt.
- Palestinians across the Strip made a run on food, fuel
and other supplies during the day, fearing they would be trapped at home
under Israeli curfew as West Bank compatriots were.
- A senior leader of the Islamic militant organization
Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, promised a fight if the Israelis stormed
- "We will defend ourselves and our people with all
our might and capabilities," he told Reuters.
- Saeb Erekat, Arafat's chief negotiator, said an Israeli
army thrust into the Gaza Strip would be disastrous.
- "It is like adding fuel to fire. We warn against
the catastrophic human and environmental consequences of such an attack
on the Gaza Strip, which is the most densely populated area in the world,"
Erekat told Reuters.
- Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the army
had decided on "functional" action not "territorial"
- "That is to say, attack the areas from where the
suicide attackers leave or the houses from where they leave or the nests
where they originate," he said on Israeli TV.
- EGYPT WARNS ISRAEL
- In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher warned
Israel against military action in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli action in
the West Bank had not achieved any goal, he said.
- The bombing Tuesday raised the toll to at least 1,345
Palestinians and 473 Israelis killed since a Palestinian revolt began after
talks on a Palestinian state stalled in mid-2000, a few years after Palestinians
won self-rule under interim deals.
- In Bethlehem, barriers were erected again in Manger Square
and Israeli troops remained surrounding the Church of the Nativity.
- Under one deal, 26 fighters and the dozens of civilians
trapped inside were to leave the shrine while the 13 wanted men slated
for exile would remain until a country agreed to take them. But an Israeli
army spokesman said the fighters blocked it with "more requests, more
- The gunmen burst into the church to elude Israeli troops
when they reoccupied Bethlehem on April 2 during the West Bank offensive.