Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Sharon Orders Military Operation After Palestinian Forces Shell Israeli Town
Sharon Orders Military Operation After Palestinian Forces Shell Israeli Town
April 17, 2001
The violent crisis that has rocked the Lord's land since the Jewish year 5,761 began last September 28 deepened significantly last evening. For the first time, Palestinian forces shelled an Israeli town well outside of the Gaza Strip, prompting the Sharon government to order the largest military operation in the nearly seven-month-old violent uprising. The operation was mainly aimed at Palestinian Authority security positions. It involved tanks, helicopter gunships and naval vessels, and included a ground assault on territory under full Palestinian control northeast of Gaza City. Further demonstrating that the crisis has entered a new phase, Israel announced this morning that its troops will remain in some PA land--which was turned over to Yasser Arafat in 1994--until all mortar attacks cease. Calling the move "a declaration of war," PA officials charged that Israel was beginning a campaign to re-occupy all Palestinian-controlled zones. Israeli officials denied the charge, although army plans for a full re-conquest are known to exist. Analysts say a complete re-occupation would only take place if it was found to be necessary in the midst of a full-scale regional war.
The unprecedented Palestinian mortar attack which prompted the Israeli action was quickly followed by unprovoked armed assaults by PA forces on Israeli troops guarding the southwest Jerusalem Gilo neighborhood, on soldiers stationed nearby at Rachel's Tomb and at army positions north of Jerusalem. The simultaneous timing of the Palestinian armed attacks led Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to conclude that senior PA officials had ordered the mortar shelling and sniper attacks, probably in an attempt to provoke a major Israeli response and to demonstrate support for allied Hizbullah militiamen and Syrian forces occupying Lebanon. After quickly consulting with the "mini-cabinet" authorized to rapidly respond to such attacks--comprised of himself, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer--Sharon sent his military forces into action.
The latest episode in the spiraling Arab-Israeli crisis began when five mortar shells were fired at the town of Sderot, located just a few miles from the northeast tip of the Gaza Strip. Sderot is well-known in Israel as a 'typical Sephardic development town' populated mainly with Jews of Moroccan background who were quickly settled in Israel in the early years of the state. It has suffered serious economic problems over the decades, but has also earned a reputation for its tenacity in seeking an end to poverty and a better life. The growing town is a political stronghold of the Orthodox Shas party, the third largest in the Knesset. PM Sharon's private farm, where his late wife Lily is buried, is located southeast of Sderot. The Palestinian mortar shells landed just before sunset at around 6:30 PM as residents of the town were shopping, having meals and driving home from work. "It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured" said Sderot mayor Eli Moyal, who watched in horror as one of the shells exploded near his home. He noted that windows were broken in one residence as a result of the attack. He called on the government to immediately respond with great force to the surprise mortar attack. Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum joined in condemning the provocative assault, with even left-wing opposition leader Yossi Sarid terming the mortar firings "a very grave development."
Palestinian leaders have once again denied that the PA is involved in the daily mortar attacks, which have escalated sharply this month. In what some Israeli leaders charged was a blatant attempt to deflect responsibility from the PA, the Islamic Hamas terrorist movement took "credit" for the attack this morning. PA police commander Abdel Razek went even further, maintaining that Israel's "aggressive attacks" were launched after the Sharon government staged a fake mortar blitz upon one if its own cities! Despite the Hamas claim of responsibility, Israeli army specialists say they traced the latest mortar firings to a PA security position in the Gaza town of Beit Hanun, just south of the Erez crossing point. Israeli troops entered and are now occupying the town even though it lies entirely in "Area A" under full Palestinian control. They also struck at PA security positions in other parts of the Gaza Strip, home to over one million Palestinians. In fact, tank-led ground forces cut the narrow strip into three during the operation as air and sea forces pounded Palestinian positions. Reports say one Palestinian policeman was killed during the military takeover of Beit Hanun, and over 20 other Palestinians were wounded. Israeli officials say the relatively low casualty toll was due to their precision attacks upon strictly military targets, and the fact that Arafat had ordered his positions evacuated soon after the mortars were fired.
Israeli analysts say the provocative Palestinian mortar attack and Israel's major response probably marks the final end of any talk of "cooperation" between the two sides, and the beginning of a stepped up armed conflict that could eventually involve outside Muslim forces. They note that Israeli General Security Service chief Avi Dichter said yesterday that the PA has totally abandoned any pretense of security cooperation, and has instead fully joined terror groups in attacking Israeli positions. The statement came just hours before Palestinian officials cancelled their participation in scheduled American-sponsored security talks that were due to take place last night with Egyptian participation. Analysts say the PA is especially angry at reports published last weekend revealing that the CIA recently gave Israeli leaders a tape recording containing the voice of PA Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan ordering the terrorist bombing of an Israeli school bus last November. The attack left two adult teachers dead and several Jewish children severely wounded, with one losing part of a leg. The CIA was said to have also taped Dahlan issuing orders for several other recent terror attacks. Some analysts believe that Dahlan was only passing on Arafat's orders.
Israeli commentators have also been speculating on the possible connection between the Palestinian decision to strike at a Jewish town well inside sovereign Israeli territory and the Hizbullah attack upon an Israeli tank on Saturday that left one IDF soldier dead (he was buried last evening near his kibbutz home in the southern Galilee region). They note that just as Hizbullah leaders were fully aware that Israel had repeatedly warned in recent months that another unprovoked attack upon its forces would lead to a swift Israeli response against Syrian positions, so the PA knew that last night's mortar assault would result in severe Israeli retaliation. Some analysts say evidence is growing that Hizbullah, armed and funded by Iran and heavily supported by Syria, is now coordinating its actions with Arafat's forces in an attempt to widen the uprising into a regional conflict. As if on cue, warnings of such a looming conflict were issued yesterday by various regional Arab leaders. Arafat called Israel's early Monday air strike upon a Syrian radar position in Lebanon "a dangerous escalation that drags the whole region into a very critical, bad and grave situation." Such an escalation--into a regional war--is exactly what Arafat wants say some analysts, believing that his publicly-stated goal of "raising the Palestinian flag over every mosque and church" in Jerusalem can only be achieved in the midst of another full-scale Mideast conflict. Iraq, Jordan, Iran and Egypt also condemned the Israeli air force strike in similar terms. Syria itself called the retaliation an act of war, with Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara warning reporters that "Israel will suffer a great blow for its aggression at the appropriate time of our choosing."
In the midst of the deepening crisis, Israeli television and radio stations carried reports last evening of the birth of a Jewish baby Sunday night in the coastal town of Netanya. The reason for the special attention was due to the fact that the baby boy was born to Russian immigrant Irena Novesche, whose husband was brutally lynched to death by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah last October. Cradling her newborn son in her arms, Irena announced from her hospital bed that the boy will be named after his late father "to keep Vadim's memory alive."