Sunday, July 17, 2005

Threats of Ground Assault

It is already July 18th out in Australia where the Monday morning papers are carrying wire service reports from AFP. On Sunday, Israel launched fresh air strikes and shot down two Hamas militants, one as he left his home in khan Younis (just up the road from Rafah.) Abbas is promising to stop the Qassam rocket attacks "at all cost," while Sharon is threatening a ground assault "within hours." Interestingly, according to this news story the head of Shin Beth is urging Abbas be given 24 hours to calm the situation.

full story archived.

TWO militants were shot dead by Israeli troops today, as Israel carried out a fresh air strike and threatened a major ground offensive in the Gaza Strip unless Palestinians halted rocket attacks.

Escalating unrest, which has killed 12 Palestinians and six Israelis in five days, has flung a spluttering truce into crisis and is to bring US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region at the end of the week to press for calm.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel's defence establishment had been given a free hand to stop all rocket attacks.

"I met defence officials and I repeated to them that there was no restriction on operations to stop attacks on (Israeli) towns," he said.

"We will absolutely not tolerate the continuation of attacks against our towns, be they inside the Gaza Strip or on the border."

Sharon reiterated that Palestinian attacks will not hinder the pullout from the Gaza Strip set to begin next month.

Said Saeam, 32, a wanted local leader in Hamas's armed wing that claimed continuous anti-Israeli rocket attacks today, was shot dead as he left home in the Gaza town of Khan Yunis, the Israeli army and Palestinian sources said.

Another Palestinian gunman was killed by Israeli troops as he tried to infiltrate the isolated Jewish settlement of Netzarim, the army said.

Three Hamas militants fled with their lives after an Israeli drone slammed a rocket into a car in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, a Hamas bastion and frequent launchpad for rocket attacks, witnesses and security sources said.

"If the Palestinian Authority does not stop the attacks, we will have to take action in its place," Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted as saying.

The military has assassinated at least eight Hamas militants since Friday - the first targeted killings in seven months.

Israel's army has deployed thousands of extra soldiers and armoured vehicles on top of those massed across the border with the Gaza Strip.

Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim threatened a major land offensive in Gaza "within the next few hours" unless militants stopped rocket attacks.

"We are heading towards a big-scale operation. The troops are ready and the operational plans drawn up," Boim told public radio.

But the head of Israel's domestic security agency recommended Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas be given a day's grace to restore calm before troops rolled across the border, public radio reported.

"Mahmoud Abbas should be given a chance. We should wait 24 hours before taking a decision," Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Beth, was quoted as saying by public radio.

Six Israeli settlers were wounded, two seriously, in a mortar attack on Neve Dekalim, an army spokesman said. Hamas claimed the attack. A follow-up rocket attack later wounded another two settlers.

Abbas, who has condemned the rocket assaults, held talks with Egypt's deputy intelligence chief, Mustafa al-Buheiri, who rushed to Gaza on a mission to help rescue the teetering truce.

The Egyptians later began follow-up talks with representatives of Hamas.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat "strongly condemned" Israel's resumption of targeted killings and warned that continued killings would "completely destroy the truce".

He warned that any ground offensive would be "a big disaster" and "will destroy all chances to make the withdrawal peaceful and organised".

A Hamas spokesman said Israel's return to targeted killings would unleash hell and warned the truce would collapse if the bloodshed continued.

"We say to the Zionist enemy, he has opened the gates of hell," Mushir al-Masri said.

"If the enemy continues his aggression and killings against our people, the truce is headed towards collapse."

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