JERUSALEM (May. 29)
As the intifada enters its 21st month, Israel and the Palestinians remain locked in a dance of death.
Confronted with a near-daily barrage of Arab terror attacks, Israel’s military has adopted a policy of launching limited operations in Palestinian population centers on the West Bank to find and arrest suspected terrorists.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened his Security Cabinet to decide how to deal with the resurgence of Palestinian terror.
At the end of the meeting, Cabinet members agreed to continue with the search-and-arrest operations rather than launch a massive campaign similar to Operation Protective Wall.
There was a brief lull in Palestinian terror attacks following that campaign in late March and April. But, as recent events have borne out, the lull proved short-lived.
During the past week, there have been a steady succession of attacks, all of which were carried out by the Al-Aksa Brigade, the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement:
On Tuesday night, four Israelis were killed in two West Bank attacks. In one attack, three yeshiva students were killed and two others were wounded by a Palestinian gunman who infiltrated the settlement of Itamar. The terrorist was shot dead by the settlement security guard. Earlier, a 50-year-old Israeli was killed in an ambush as he was driving near the settlement of Ofra.
On Monday, a 15-month-old girl and her grandmother were killed in a suicide bombing that was carried out in the central shopping center in Petach Tikvah. The two died after they were taken to a local hospital. More than 40 people were wounded, six of them seriously, in the attack, which targeted a site filled with women and their children.
Last Friday, a man attempted to drive a car loaded with explosives into a Tel Aviv nightclub. The attack was thwarted when an alert security guard shot and killed the driver, setting off an explosion outside the club. Five Israelis were lightly injured.
Earlier in the month, there were at least five Palestinian suicide bombings — not counting the attacks that the Israeli military said it was able to prevent as a result of its operations in the West Bank.
Some Israeli officials continue to hold Arafat directly responsible for the terror because the Al-Aksa Brigade is an offshoot of his Fatah movement.
Indeed, at Wednesday’s Security Cabinet meeting, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, repeated his call to exile Arafat.
Sharon subsequently criticized Mofaz for making political statements, telling him to stick to military matters.
Sharon’s decision to continue pursuing the search-and-arrest operations comes as U.S. officials are considering stepping up their involvement in Middle East peacemaking.
According to several Bush administration sources, the United States is considering the idea of presenting Israel and the Palestinians with a timetable for achieving a peace accord. U.S. officials also are said to be thinking of presenting the two sides with a detailed outline of what a final accord should include.
This would represent a major departure for the Bush team, which until now has said it is up to Israel and the Palestinians to decide how to achieve peace.
Two U.S. officials are due in the region later this week.
CIA Director George Tenet is expected to press the Palestinians to reduce the number of its security organizations and establish clear lines of control over the armed groups.
The second official, William Burns, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, was expected to discuss political reforms in the Palestinian Authority and discuss arrangements for an international peace conference.
After Tenet and Burns return to Washington with a progress report, the Bush administration will “start to integrate all this information and see what next steps should be taken,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said this week.