- Ariel Sharon may be planning a military offensive against
the Gaza Strip, the heartland of anti-Israeli militancy.
- The Israeli Prime Minister told the Knesset Foreign
and Defence Committee that "terror" in the Gaza Strip was
remarks that will seen by many Israelis as an indication that tanks and
troops are poised to strike.
- Gaza is said by sources to be "wired" for an
attack, raising the possibility of a battle that could dwarf the nine-day
conflict that led to the devastation of Jenin refugee camp.
- Ominously, a senior Israeli army officer reported to
the same committee yesterday that there had recently been 250 "terror
attacks" in the strip.
- Amid international concerns there may soon be another
stage of Mr Sharon's "war on terror", efforts continued to try
to resolve the stand-off that resulted from the first phase.
- Israeli and Palestinian officials held their first direct
talks yesterday, aimed at ending a three-week siege in the Church of
in Bethlehem where conditions have steadily worsened for the several
people inside the basilica.
- Israeli army negotiators appeared determined not to budge
from their demand for the surrender of between 35 and 40 Palestinian
militants, so they can put on trial or exiled from the occupied
- The Palestinian negotiators - who described yesterday's
session as "constructive" - are pushing for a solution, proposed
in the early stage of the crisis, under which the wanted men would be
to the Gaza Strip, with the protection of international guarantees.
- Signs grew further yesterday of the deteriorating
inside the church, which is surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks. Despite
the risk of being shot at by snipers, two monks climbed on to one of the
compound roofs yesterday, brandishing a notice saying "Please Save
Us". A spokesman for the Franciscan Order - which has several dozen
monks inside the basilica - said it had filed a petition to Israel's
Court calling for an order requiring the Israeli authorities to meet the
humanitarian needs of those inside the basilica.
- Father David Jaeger, speaking from Rome, said he wanted
water and electricity supplies to be restored, and for the army to stop
obstructing the delivery of food. The order also asked for permission for
the removal and proper burial of two Muslims, who have been in the church
for days after being shot dead by the Israeli armed forces.
- The army says it has supplied food through the siege.
However, the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy, Canon Andrew White, said
it had run out two days ago.
- While the stalemate continued, there were signs that
attempts by Mr Sharon to isolate Yasser Arafat were failing. Although Mr
Sharon opposed a recent visit to the Palestinian leader's compound by the
American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, his government announced last
night that permission had been given for a visit by a delegation of senior
European officials tomorrow.
- These include the European Union's foreign policy chief,
Javier Solana, and its Middle East envoy, Miguel Moratinos, and the Greek
and Turkish foreign ministers. The decision reflects Israel's desire to
lessen the international ire over the destruction wreaked by its armed
forces in Jenin.
- Mr Sharon is also making no secret of his misgivings
about the United Nations fact-finding mission that will investigate the