- JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said army raids into the Gaza Strip would go
on, a day after a bloody incursion killed 14 Palestinians and drew strong
international rebukes, including from Israel's top ally Washington.
- The right-wing leader, forced to bow to US pressure last
month to end his siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's base, was
in a defiant mood despite Washington's saying it was "deeply troubled"
by Monday's storming of the Gaza town of Khan Yunis.
- "The complicated operation we carried out (Monday)
was a success. It was an important one and there will be other anti-terrorist
operations of this sort in the Gaza Strip," Sharon told army radio.
- His comments appeared to fly in the face of US attempts
to calm the region ahead of expected strikes against Baghdad, as Israel
warned that while it respected Washington's agenda, it had its own security
- An official from Sharon's office insisted that despite
Washington's call for restraint, the US administration of President George
W. Bush "recognises Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism."
- "The Israeli army will continue its operations if
the Palestinian Authority does not decide to prevent terrorists from carrying
out attacks," he said.
- "If we have no other option, we will do the work
ourselves in order to guarantee the security of Israeli civilians,"
the official said.
- Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships stormed into Khan
Yunis in an operation the army said was aimed at rooting out militants
from the Islamic group Hamas, who had fired mortars at nearby Jewish settlements.
- The raid and clashes which dragged on after the army
pulled back to the settlements cost the lives of 14 people, eight of them
when a helicopter fired a rocket at a group near a mosque.
- Israel said most of those killed were militants, while
the Palestinians said only four of them were armed, including two police
officers. All four armed men were killed in the rocket strike, they said.
- In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher
said: "We're deeply troubled by the reports of Israeli actions in
Gaza over the weekend that resulted in the deaths and wounding of many
- "Israeli operations were undertaken in crowded civilian
areas and involved firing on a medical facility," he said.
- Israel, which reoccupied most of the West Bank in June
and has been scouring the region for suspected militants ever since, keeping
hundreds of thousands of Palestinian under regular curfew, has stepped
up raids on the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
- Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called the Israeli
operation an "ugly massacre which is part of preparations to reoccupy
the Gaza Strip".
- However Israeli analysts say it is unlikely the army
will undertake a full reoccupation of the narrow coastal strip, one of
the most densely populated areas in the world, with more than a million
people, many of them in crammed into massive refugee camps.
- It is also a stronghold of die-hard Islamist factions
such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
- As well as being risky militarily, it would anger Israel's
main ally Washington and put it under huge pressure.
- Analysts say it is far more likely the army will continue
the frequent raids for a "psychological" effect, showing militants
they have nowhere to hide, rather than for a larger military goal, given
that most Palestinian raids have been launched out of the West Bank.
- Israel was bracing for renewed attacks from the Palestinian
hardliners after vows to strike back for the raid, although Israeli security
officials say they have largely hobbled the Palestinian militant networks
which for two years have launched suicide bombers and gunmen into Israeli
- And the Palestinian security forces were still searching
Tuesday for a renegade Hamas operative who, together with 20 of his men,
abducted and murdered a Gaza police chief, in apparent revenge for the
killing of two Islamists a year ago in anti-US riots which the police tried
- In gunbattles after the murder, four Hamas supporters
shot as police tracked down Imad Aqel, the local leader who carried out
- Tensions appeared to have defused on the northern border
with Lebanon, as Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said Washington
had asked Israel to delay any action against Beirut as it prepares a compromise
to the countries' heated water dispute that could spill over into war.
- US experts will present a compromise solution within
days that would put "a limitation on the water quantities that Lebanon
could pump" from the Wazzani river in southern Lebanon, a key sources
of water for the Jewish state.
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