Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Israel Withdraws From Gaza Town After US Denounces Israeli Operation
Israel Withdraws From Gaza Town After US Denounces Israeli Operation
April 18, 2001
Palestinians fired additional mortar shells this morning at an Israeli civilian settlement and army positions in the Gaza Strip, just hours after Israeli forces began pulling out of a small portion of Palestinian-controlled land in the northeast portion of the strip. No damage or casualties were immediately reported from the latest shelling attack, which was aimed at the community of Neve Dekalim and at Israeli soldiers stationed at the Erez crossing point. A roadside bomb was also discovered and safely defused this morning near Erez. Palestinians also fired overnight on Israeli positions at Rachel's Tomb south of Jerusalem and other places around Bethlehem, and in several other locations. Israeli forces returned the fire, reportedly leading to the death of one Palestinian fighter.
Israeli forces began withdrawing from the small Gaza town of Beit Hanun late last night soon after the United States strongly denounced Tuesday's Israeli operation, which the army said was mainly designed to stop mortar firings on nearby Israeli communities. Earlier, an army commander said IDF forces would stay put in Beit Hanun for "a few days, weeks or months, or as long as it takes to end the mortar attacks." The statement was later criticized by Israeli government officials who said it unnecessarily added to international condemnation of the defensive Israeli army action.
Yasser Arafat harshly denounced the "Israeli aggression," calling the military operation "an unforgivable, dirty crime" that was "committed by Israeli gangs trying to force us to our knees." He vowed that the Palestinians would "never give in" to Israel, and attacked the United Nations for "not making a move to defend" the Palestinian people. Meanwhile Palestinian Authority security chief Amin el-Hindi expressed full support for the Monday night Palestinian mortar attack on the Israeli town of Sderot, calling it "a justified response to Israeli aggression." Other Palestinian officials called upon the UN Security Council to hold an immediate emergency session to authorize the quick dispatch of an international force to intervene in the deepening conflict. In Jerusalem, the Israeli Security Cabinet is holding a special session today to discuss the escalating crisis.
The US State Department issued a fierce rebuke against the Israeli Gaza Strip operation. Speaking in the name of Secretary of State Colin Powell, a spokesman termed the military action "excessive and disproportionate," although he acknowledged that the operation came in response to "provocative Palestinian mortar attacks." Israeli commentators said the subsequent army pullback was probably due to the US rebuke, although the Prime Minister's office said the order to withdraw had been issued before the Powell statement was released.
Some Israeli politicians and commentators criticized the US statement, saying it would only encourage more Palestinian violence. "Yasser Arafat will undoubtedly view the Powell statement as an important step in fulfilling his stated goal of internationalizing the conflict by bringing a UN 'protection force' into the area," said one commentator on Israel radio. Others said the sharp US rebuke would only encourage Arafat to pursue another uprising goal of harming relations between Israel and its giant superpower ally. Former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold noted that Israel was only trying to stop unprovoked and potentially deadly mortar attacks upon its civilian communities, and had made clear it has no interest in permanently re-occupying Palestinian land. One commentator compared the "relatively restrained Israeli action in the face of constant Palestinian attacks" with the "massive force" used by the United States in the 1999 Balkans campaign, which left some people homeless and others wounded or dead, destroyed bridges over the Danube River and halted river commerce in many parts of Europe for months. "Now, the Albanian Muslims that the US and NATO were supposedly defending are going on the offensive in Macedonia, but we are the ones using excessive force when we try to keep Palestinian terror bombs and mortar shells from killing our own citizens in our own land."
The US government statement also called on the Palestinians to "renounce terrorism and violence, to exercise control over all elements of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and to discipline violators." It urged Israel to "withdraw from Gaza according to the terms of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians," ending with the contention that "there can be no military solution to this conflict." One analysts pointed out that Israel had long ago pulled out of over 90% of the Gaza Strip in full compliance with the 1993 preliminary Oslo Accord. He noted that the agreement contained two main points: An Israeli withdrawal from parts of the disputed territories in exchange for a total cessation of Palestinian violence against Israel. "We evacuated most of Gaza in 1994, and have only gone back to a small portion now because the Palestinians were totally violating the accord by using the land to shell our nearby communities." He added that the State Department "must realize that Israel has no interest in reconquering" the area, but cannot allow mortar shells to be constantly fired from Palestinian-controlled land without a response. The commentator also questioned the seeming US contention that Israel was seeking a military solution to the conflict: "It is Arafat who is hoping that his violent holy war will spark an all-out regional conflict that might result in the 'liberation' of Jerusalem from Israeli control." The Powell statement did indeed warn that the violence in Gaza could "spin out of control and lead to a broader conflict."
Israeli officials are still far more concerned that the situation along the border with Lebanon, and not the Gaza Strip, could result in a new regional war. The concern was heightened on Tuesday when Hizbullah vowed to retaliate for an Israeli air strike on a Syrian military position east of Beirut. "Our response to the aggressive Israeli operation against our Syrian brothers will be at a time of our choosing," warned Hizbullah deputy leader Sheik Naim Kassem. He pledged that the extremist militia would "continue our resistance despite the consequences." He also confirmed Israeli contentions that Syria, as well as Iran, is fully backing the militia, which has total control of Lebanon's international border with Israel because the government in Beirut--under strong Syrian pressure--refuses to send its army to patrol the border.