- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel
sent reservists home on Sunday as it retreated from a planned Gaza Strip
offensive that had been undermined by diplomatic pressure and dissent from
- Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told reporters
that Israel's decision to shelve an assault should not be interpreted as
surrender to "terrorism."
- "We reserve the right to respond when we want and
how we want -- period," Ben-Eliezer said, touring the site near Tel
Aviv of a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 15 Israelis on Tuesday,
an attack that triggered plans for a Gaza sweep.
- On another front, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
faced a key policy battle within his own party over the question of a Palestinian
- Supporters of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
in Sharon's Likud party said they would push a resolution through the central
committee declaring the party would never support the creation of such
- Likud officials raced to hammer out a compromise.
- If the resolution is passed at the forum in Tel Aviv,
it could tie Sharon's hands in future peace efforts and weaken his standing
in Likud as Netanyahu gears up for an expected leadership challenge ahead
of next year's general election.
- Sharon has said he envisages a Palestinian state at the
end of a long peacemaking process.
- In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian laborer shot dead his
Israeli employer near a checkpoint leading to the Jewish settlement of
Rafiah Yam, an army spokesman said.
- The incident followed an easing of tensions on the Israel-Gaza
border as military sources said some of the reservists mobilized Thursday
for a sweep against militants in the densely populated Gaza Strip were
being sent home.
- Israeli military affairs correspondents, who are briefed
regularly by senior officers, had reported that some generals had opposed
a Gaza operation, warning of heavy Israeli army and Palestinian civilian
- Senior political sources said the offensive was shelved
because details of the battle plan were leaked to the media.
- David Magen, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs
and defense committee, said the real reason was Israeli fear of diplomatic
fallout so soon after a sweep through the West Bank.
- "I think the delay is due to political and other
public reasons," he told Israel Radio.
- Israel has been urged by U.S. and other foreign leaders
to eschew another military thrust to avoid burying new diplomacy, including
a U.S. initiative for a conference on peacemaking.
- SAUDI OFFICIAL WELCOMES ISRAELI MOVE
- A Saudi official traveling with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Sunday welcomed Israel's decision to send home reservists.
- "This is firm evidence that American pressure on
Israel is working," the official told Reuters.
- Diplomats said the shelving of a Gaza strike was a welcome
extension to Friday's resolution of an Israeli siege that lasted more than
five weeks at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
- Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal
cited a "ray of hope" for peace after the European-brokered deal
in which Palestinian militants holed up in the church were sent into exile
and Israeli forces left Bethlehem.
- Cyprus, where 13 of the militants were taken temporarily,
said Sunday it wanted them to leave by Wednesday. European Union foreign
ministers were expected to decide Monday which of the bloc's member states
would take them.
- Israeli commentators said a Gaza sweep could have caused
friction with Washington at a time when President Bush has joined Sharon
in urging reforms in the Palestinian Authority. The two men met at the
White House Tuesday.
- Israeli officials had hinted military action in Gaza
would be directed at a limited number of specific targets, unlike the broad
onslaught against Palestinian towns in the West Bank that was launched
in March after an earlier spate of suicide attacks.
- That offensive caused widespread damage to Palestinian
infrastructure and suffering among civilians. Israeli troops have since
pulled out of West Bank towns but continue to encircle them and stage raids
in pursuit of more militants.
- Ben-Eliezer told the cabinet in its weekly session Sunday
that Israeli forces had captured 15 would-be suicide bombers in West Bank
raids over the past two weeks.
- Saturday, some 60,000 peace activists rallied in Tel
Aviv to call for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank and Gaza to defuse
conflict with Palestinians.
- It was the largest show of force by Israel's peace camp
since the start in September 2000 of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli
- In the West Bank, Israeli troops raided the city of Tulkarm
and arrested two militants. Palestinian sources said one was the wife of
a senior Hamas militant captured by Israel.
- In Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh Saturday,
the leaders of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia affirmed a commitment to pursue
a peace deal between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for an Israeli
pullout from all land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
- At least 1,347 Palestinians and 474 Israelis have been
killed since the Palestinian revolt began.