Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » IDF Flexes Muscle In Jenin And Bethlehem
ICEJ NEWS - 08/15/2001
Israeli tanks and bulldozers on Monday night rumbled into Jenin, prime breeding grounds for Islamic suicide bombers, in a temporary show of force that furious Palestinian officials branded a "declaration of war." When the IDF seemed poised to make a similar incursion into the Bethlehem area on Tuesday night to quell incessant gunfire at Jerusalem, it appears PLO chief Yasser Arafat was pressured into ordering his Tanzim militia to cease fire.
After midnight Monday, Israeli armor was sent for the first time in over ten months of fighting into the heart of a Palestinian-ruled city to flatten the main police headquarters in Jenin. The ten IDF tanks and two giant bulldozers first paraded to the central town square and then set about destroying the Palestinian Authority police station a block away.
Palestinian gunmen directed heavy fire at the armored column, but their bullets only bounced off the thick plating. With hatches safely battened down, the unfazed Israeli forces completed the demolition order and decided not to fire back at militiamen shooting from nearby residences.
IAF helicopters flew overhead, but did not engage their weapons during the four-hour operation. Summoned to confront the "invasion," the lightly armed Palestinians could do little to stop it. Some Fatah activists reportedly strapped explosives on their bodies, but none dared attack the IDF column. Yet after the IDF withdrew, Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate what the PA media praised as their "heroic" repulsion of the enemy.
Jenin was invaded after it became clear it was the point of origin for the suicide bombers who recently targeted two Israeli restaurants - the deadly blast at the Sbarro pizza parlor in Jerusalem last Thursday that killed 15 people and the explosion in the "Wall Street" cafÃ© near Haifa on Sunday. Israeli security sources labeled Jenin the "city of bombers," claiming that as many as nine recent suicide bombers from Hamas and Islamic Jihad were recruited from the northern Samarian town and its nearby refugee camps.
Israel said the police station was leveled because local PA security forces were not only failing to curb the terrorist activity under their noses, but were actually aiding the Islamic terror groups to arm and dispatch the bombers on their missions.
Israeli leaders said they had no intention of "re-conquering" Palestinian towns, but this was meant as a strong message to Arafat that the PA will pay a steep price for continuing the campaign of violence and terror.
But angry PA figures denounced the move as a "declaration of war." Arafat quickly appealed to the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency session and authorize a "protection force" for his people. The UN has agreed to take up the matter for the third time in eight months.
Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared that 14 more suicide bombers were preparing to carry out attacks, and that several had already infiltrated into Israel.
As word spread by dawn of the penetration into Jenin, the Fatah Tanzim sent gunmen into Beit Jalla for a rare morning shooting attack on Gilo, in southern Jerusalem. The gunfire lasted for hours yesterday, wounding one Israeli man and damaging several homes and cars. In mid afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisted this would be the last time shots were fired at Gilo.
Israeli leaders decided to threaten a repeat of the Jenin raid by massing armor and infantry after dark around Beit Jalla, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, to the east. While most Palestinian residents nervously huddled in their homes last night, armed militants and PA forces reportedly assembled at Manger Square to prepare for the expected offensive.
Just before midnight, the IDF even began firing flares to light their way into Beit Sahour, drawing sporadic Palestinian fire. Yet by sunrise Wednesday, the IDF had failed to advance, and most of today has been spent trying to figure out why.
The morning papers here attributed the halt to heavy US pressure on Sharon, after the State Department yesterday decried the Jenin operation as "provocative" and President George W. Bush called for Israeli "restraint." Sharon was reported as having told the Americans that if shots were fired again at Gilo, IDF forces would move into Beit Jalla, but the mini-security cabinet held off action at Washington's behest.
Another version, however, touted European Union officials as the main mediators last night between Israel and Arafat, who eventually yielded to demands that he exert authority over the armed Fatah elements firing at Gilo. The EU's Middle East specialist Miguel Moratinos admitted today helping to defuse the standoff.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer today denied that the US or a reported telephone call from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had pressured him into calling off a thrust into the Bethlehem area. He claimed that word reached him of serious efforts to persuade Arafat to rein in the defiant gunmen, and he simply gave them time to succeed.
For its part, the IDF said a planned incursion into Beit Jalla was not cancelled, but rather delayed 24 hours until this evening. As darkness fell, concentrations of IDF troops, tanks and armored personnel vehicles were still positioned outside the greater Bethlehem area, at least to ensure the Palestinians do not cross any "red lines," ISRAEL RADIO reported.
In any event, the mission was aborted when Arafat ordered Tanzim leaders to temporarily halt their gunfire into Gilo, thus demonstrating he does have control over armed Palestinian factions. Israel also has conveyed the message to him that the next shooting attack on Gilo will be met by a ground assault into Beit Jalla.
Sharon apparently has opened a new phase in the battle to contain Palestinian terrorism, authorizing Peres to engage PA officials in direct talks to achieve a sustained ceasefire, while also taking some concrete, but bloodless steps to signal Arafat he stands to lose "political assets" from now on if the intifada persists. The Jenin raid left only two PA policemen with minor injuries, and followed closely the violence-free takeover of Orient House and nine other PA/PLO illegal political and security facilities in eastern Jerusalem.
"Whoever turns to terror will pay a diplomatic price," Sharon told an audience of police commanders in Jerusalem yesterday. "We conveyed this message with the closure of Orient House and institutions in East Jerusalem. If the violence continues, the Palestinians will lose other assets and they have plenty to lose."
Israeli leaders clarified yesterday that the closure order on Orient House would not be reviewed for at least six months. PA officials responded that they would refuse to enter any talks with Israel until Orient House and other PA buildings in Jerusalem were re-opened.
Although initially opposed to padlocking Orient House, Peres yesterday defended it as a surprisingly appropriate move that got a strong message across without shedding blood. He rejected PA charges that this had violated his secret 1993 letter to the Norwegian foreign minister, which committed Israel to maintaining the status quo of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Peres said diplomatic and security functions were not covered by the pledge.
Peres also cautioned against striking too hard at Arafat and the PA, since it is driving them into league with Hamas and other Islamic militants.
Peres protÃ©gÃ© Yossi Beilin called on him to leave the government immediately because of the raid on Jenin, which he described as "the Palestinian city that was most active in the peace process and regional cooperation." Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid said the Jenin incursion proved that the conventional wisdom - whereby Peres is dragging Sharon into implementing his policy - is incorrect, and that the opposite - Sharon dragging Peres in his direction - is actually the case.
Meanwhile, Beilin`s proposal to hold a second Madrid convention on the tenth anniversary of the first one this October was rejected by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Arab League today. At a meeting of Arab League information ministers in Cairo today, Arafat insisted that Israel intends to build the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in order to strengthen its hold on Jerusalem. The Third Temple will be built on the site of Al-Aqsa mosque, Arafat said. He called upon the ministers to prevent the US from moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.