JERUSALEM, June 23 (JTA) — Israeli officials still apparently favor the military option as the best response to Palestinian terrorism. Israel has long struggled with the question of how to deal with Palestinian terror. Indeed, the Security Cabinet last Friday debated one idea: expelling the families of Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Cabinet ministers agreed in principle to the proposal, whose legal ramifications must now be explored. For now, though, it is the military response that is being pursued. On Sunday, Israeli tanks rumbled into the West Bank city of Kalkilya after taking control days earlier of Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and areas around Ramallah. The Israeli army began an extensive new operation in the West Bank last week after the Cabinet, reacting to a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks, decided that the army would seize and hold Palestinian areas until the attacks cease. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that Israel does not want to take control over civilian affairs in the West Bank, as it did for 27 years before the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994. “There is no intention to and there won’t be in actuality any control of civil affairs by the army in the Palestinian areas in which the army is fighting terror,” he said. In another development Sunday, the army called up a brigade of reserve soldiers to back up its regular forces in a widening search for Palestinian terrorists. The moves came after Palestinian suicide bombers struck twice in Jerusalem last week, killing 26 Israelis and injuring more than 120 others. Five more Israelis were killed June 20, when a Palestinian gunman infiltrated the settlement of Itamar. After funerals were held last Friday for the five, Israeli settlers allegedly went on a rampage in nearby Arab villages and killed one Palestinian man. A settler was arrested over the weekend for alleged involvement in the murder, but he denied any connection to the slaying. In another development last Friday, four Palestinians, including three children, were killed and 24 injured when an Israeli tank fired on a market in Jenin. Palestinians had gone to the market to buy food after a rumor spread that an Israeli curfew had been lifted. A nearby tank fired two shells as a warning, one of which hit the group. The Israeli army later called the killings a “mistake.” Israel’s military operation in the West Bank comes amid a diplomatic vacuum. President Bush was planning to make a major Middle East policy address last week that was widely expected to include a call for an interim Palestinian state. But he postponed the speech after the Jerusalem terror attacks. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has repeatedly stated that he is willing to pursue diplomacy with the Palestinians — but only after there is a complete halt to Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis. Last Friday, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat dropped a bombshell when he said in an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that he now accepts a peace plan that was drawn up in December 2000 by President Clinton following the collapse of the Camp David several months earlier. According to the Clinton plan, the Palestinians would set up a state in 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza and would gain sovereignty over Arab sections of Jerusalem. Under the plan, Palestinian refugees would also give up on their “right of return” to areas they fled during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Some observers questioned Arafat’s sincerity, saying he issued the statement in an effort to halt Israel’s anti-terror military operation in the West Bank. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Palestinian group based in Damascus, blasted Arafat’s comments, saying he was selling out his people.
Israel launches new military operation