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Remembering the Holocaust as Violence Continues

Thursday, April 19, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: , ,

Remembering the Holocaust as Violence Continues
by David Dolan
April 19, 2001
Israelis stood in silence for two minutes this morning as sirens wailed throughout the Jewish State in memory of the five million Jewish adults and one million children slaughtered in the Nazi holocaust of World War Two. State ceremonies marking the annual memorial day began last evening at the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum in southwest Jerusalem. Speaking to the assembled guests and via television to the nation, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon alluded to the current violence rocking the land: "Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and capability to defend themselves by themselves. Only through strict adherence to this principal will we know that the courage and sacrifice of our holocaust heroes was not in vain, but will instead insure the Jewish people's independent existence in our homeland. Only then we will achieve the peace which we so desire." The fact that the Jewish people still face threats today was dramatically illustrated as Sharon spoke. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli soldiers guarding Rachel's Tomb just a few miles east of the ceremony. The sounds of the attack, and the Israeli army response, could be clearly heard during the remembrance ceremony. Palestinian forces later opened fire on Jewish homes in the Gilo neighborhood not far from Yad VaShem, prompting Israeli tanks to return the fire. The thundering noise of the short but intense battle could be heard in most parts of Israel's contested capital city.

Palestinian attacks upon Israeli civilian centers--apparently designed to draw a strong Israeli military response, and then world denunciations of Israel for using "excessive force"--also took place late last night near the Gaza Strip. Several shells were directed at the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Earlier Palestinian forces fired mortars at a Jewish school in a nearby settlement, with one exploding between two school buildings. No one was injured.

Also last night, six Palestinian mortar shells landed next to Kibbutz Nir Am, a civilian community inside Israel's pre-1967 border not far from the town of Sderot, which was struck by five shells on Monday night. Officials acknowledged that the explosive shells were probably launched from the tiny slice of Palestinian-controlled land that Israeli army forces briefly seized in an operation on Tuesday. Army leaders said at the time that they would stay put in the area until attacks on nearby civilian centers were halted. However, United States government and other international denunciations of Israel's alleged use of "excessive and disproportionate force" apparently prompted an early army withdrawal, even though embarrassed Israeli government leaders--who have been sharply criticized by some Knesset members for seemingly caring more about American pressure than the well-being of their citizens--say a rapid pullback was always their intention. After last night's repeat mortar blitz, Jewish community leaders in the area are again calling upon the Sharon government to do everything possible to halt the missile firings, with one noting that a 18 month old Israeli baby boy had been severely wounded by an identical mortar shell just two weeks ago in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials continue to crow over the rapid Israeli withdrawal. Palestinian Authority cabinet minister Hassan Asfour said that the United States had "forced the politically-stupid Sharon to order his army to retreat, with its head in the ground." Also characterizing the swift Israeli withdrawal as a great victory for the Palestinian cause, Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo boasted that the Palestinians would "continue to respond with popular resistance to any further Israeli invasions into our territory." Another cabinet minister said the Palestinians may withdraw their Oslo "recognition" of Israel if Sharon "continues his aggression against the Palestinian people." The Palestinian statements added to a fiery debate in Israel over the lightening army operation. Several right-wing politicians, including Herut Knesset member Michael Kleiner, said even the appearance that the pullout came as a result of international pressure did great harm to Israel's deterrent capacity in regional Arab eyes, reinforcing the damage caused by the seemingly hasty withdrawal from Lebanon last May. Army leaders again contended that they had not been told that the incursion would be so short-lived, but were under the impression that troops would hold the slice of territory for some time. Sharon's office insisted that the Israeli leader had intended from the start to order a rapid pullout.

US President George Bush spoke to PM Sharon last night by telephone to discuss the latest developments. Bush reportedly called for "restraint" from Sharon as he reacts to escalating Palestinian mortar and shooting attacks. Sharon's office said the Israeli leader had explained that he has no intention of taking over Palestinian-controlled land, but every intention of stopping rocket assaults upon his citizens. Meanwhile Israeli radio is reporting today that Bush may pull US troops and civilian personnel out of the international force that has patrolled the Sinai Peninsula since the Camp David peace accord was signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.

In other action overnight, around a dozen Palestinian shooting attacks were reported in various locations. An Israeli Arab driving with Israeli license plates was lightly wounded when his car was struck by a bullet north of Jerusalem. Another Israeli Arab was hit by Palestinian rifle fire as he was working in a field near the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. United Nation's officials say that Israeli army forces would not let them pass this morning through an army roadblock in the central Gaza Strip. An army spokesman said the blockage was meant to insure the safety of the UN delegation since fighting was raging in the area. A UN spokesman called the move a violation of agreements signed between the UN and Israel. The incident occurred just one day after the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva voted 50 to 1 to condemn Israel for its "expansionist settlement policy." The United States cast the lone vote against the European Union-backed resolution, saying that further identical resolutions on the issue are not helpful (the UN frequently censures Israel for building homes inside the ancient Jewish biblical heartland--Samaria and Judea--and in other areas captured during the 1967 Six Day war). Meanwhile Palestinians say an Israeli tank shell was deliberately fired this morning at Halil Sukaini, a senior Hamas activist in the Gaza Strip near Kafar Darom, seriously wounding him. Sukaini is said to be a top aid to Hamas terror mastermind Muhammad Deif.

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