JERUSALEM (Mar. 31)
With Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat surrounded by Israeli troops at his Ramallah headquarters, Israel now has to decide what to do with him.
Israel’s Security Cabinet met Sunday to discuss the question, but there were no indications that any final decision had been reached.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have to choose from the lesser of several evils, according to some Israeli analysts.
“Sharon finds himself at a crossroads of entanglement, at a junction leading to situations that might not end well,” wrote Yoel Marcus, a Ha’aretz commentator.
“Who knows the truth more than we do, from the days of the British Mandate: It’s not easy to wipe out an entire people’s aspiration for independence.”
Israel is insisting it won’t harm Arafat, and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said soldiers had strict orders not to harm the Palestinian leader.
After Sunday’s Security Cabinet meeting, Sharon made a brief televised address to the nation in which he said a daily series of Palestinian terror attacks launched against Israel were “activated, coordinated and directed by one man” — Arafat.
Sharon also called Arafat “an enemy of Israel and an enemy of the free world.”
“Citizens of Israel: the State of Israel is at war, a war against terror,” Sharon said. “We must fight this terrorism, in an uncompromising war to uproot these savages, to dismantle their infrastructure because there is no compromise with terrorists.”
He also compared Palestinian suicide bombers to the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States.
In an attempt to rally public support in the face of unremitting Palestinian terror, Sharon said Israel is “at a decisive point in its history. The situation is not easy,” but Israel “will prevail.”
Sharon spoke after three straight days of attacks in which suicide bombers struck targets in Israel’s three largest cities: Sunday in Haifa, Saturday in Tel Aviv and last Friday in Jerusalem.
Israel invaded Arafat’s presidential compound in Ramallah last Friday, cutting off electricity and phone lines. Seven Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed during the operation, which came after Sharon declared Arafat an “enemy” following a March 27 suicide bombing at a Passover seder in a Netanya hotel. Twenty-two people were killed in that attack.
President Bush backed the Israeli operation, saying Saturday that Israel has the right to defend itself against terror attacks.
Bush also said the Palestinian Authority president “has got to speak out. He has got to make it absolutely clear that the Palestinian Authority does not support terrorists.”
Speaking on the TV show “Fox News Sunday,” Lieberman also said he feared the Palestinian leadership had been “hijacked” by extremists whose goal was not statehood, but the “annihilation of Israel.”
“This is not the time to stop the Israelis from doing what they are doing in their own self-defense,” Lieberman added.
Arafat, meanwhile, remained defiant.
Arafat told an Arab television station over the weekend that he is ready to die as a “martyr” for the Palestinian cause. With a candle and a machine gun on his desk, Arafat used a cell phone to place calls to world leaders, asking them to exert pressure on Israel. He also said he is just one of “millions” of Palestinians willing to die in the battle with Israel for control of Jerusalem.
On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council called on Israel to withdraw its troops from the West Bank. The call, however, did not set any specific time frame for an Israeli withdrawal.
The resolution, which had the support of the United States, passed by a vote of 14-0. Syria, which had wanted harsher criticism of Israel, abstained.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened an emergency meeting last Friday by telling Israel to halt its assault on the Palestinian Authority and said Palestinians had to stop their “horrific terrorist attacks” against Israeli civilians.
Those attacks have been relentless and deadly.
Sunday’s terror attack in Haifa came after Israeli security officials warned that an attack was imminent and set up checkpoints throughout the country in an effort to nab terrorists.
But by mid-afternoon, a bomber struck at a restaurant in Haifa, killing at least 13 people and wounding about 35 others.
The restaurant, which is located in a gas station complex owned by Israeli Arabs, was frequented by Jews and Arabs, said Wakid, an Israeli Arab whose brother-in-law owns a kiosk next to the restaurant.
In an interview with Channel Two television, he said the restaurant did not have a guard.
According to Amos Matzna, mayor of Haifa, there are going to be a lot more guards posted at public establishments in the city.
“We just signed an order, an hour before the bombing, that all places of business must have a guard if ordered to do so by the police,” Matzna told Channel Two.
Security guards have become a familiar site in Jerusalem, where most cafes and restaurants have someone standing at the door.
A security guard, Haim Smadar, was killed last Friday at a Jerusalem supermarket, while blocking a suicide bomber from entering the crowded store. Another person was also killed in the attack.
Hours after Sunday’s attack in Haifa, a second bomber detonated his explosives outside a clinic in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, wounding at least four people.
A spokesman for Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service told Israel Radio the bomber had targeted an ambulance dispatch station. One of the wounded was a paramedic.
Sunday’s attacks took place on the third day of the intermediate days of Passover, when Israelis traditionally take to the road and travel the country.
But not this year.
Streets were empty in many of Israel’s major cities, as locals stayed away from cafes and crowded areas.
In Tel Aviv on Saturday night, 30 Israelis were wounded when a terrorist blew up a Tel Aviv cafe Saturday night. The blast occurred at about 9:30 p.m. at the My Coffee Shop, on the corner of Allenby and Bialik Streets in central Tel Aviv. The Al-Aksa Brigades, the military wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the blast.
In last Friday’s attack at a Jerusalem supermarket, along with the two Israelis who were killed, 30 others were wounded. The Al-Aksa Brigades, again claimed responsibility. The bomber was identified as a teen-aged woman from a refugee camp. She was the third Palestinian woman to carry out a suicide bombing since the intifada began in September 2000.
Confronted with the unremitting Palestinian terror, Israel is preparing to expand its military activities.
The Israel Defense Force may take control of Palestinian cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported Sunday.
In a move reflecting the possibility of more military action, the army issued 20,000 call-up notices for reservists last Friday.