Latest Headline Briefs from Israel – July 10, 2001

Tuesday, July 10, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Latest Headline Briefs from Israel – July 10, 2001

Israeli tanks and bulldozers stormed into a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip overnight, destroying homes and sparking a fierce gunbattle. Three Israeli soldiers and five Palestinians were wounded. The area, on the border with Egypt, has been the site of daily attacks by Palestinian militiamen using guns and hand grenades. Israel says 15 Palestinian homes were destroyed; Palestinians put the number at 26, as well as a dozen shops. The army said the houses were used by gunmen for cover, and the demolitions were aimed at stopping Palestinian fire. This morning, residents left homeless picked through the debris searching for their belongings. Palestinian officials accused Israel of violating the cease-fire, saying the area is under full Palestinian control. During the operation, 22 hand grenades and two anti-tank grenades were thrown at Israeli soldiers, the army said. One of the army bulldozers was hit by an anti-tank grenade, and three soldiers were wounded, one seriously. At one point, Palestinian security forces joined the battle.

The Gaza violence came amid warnings of an imminent car bomb attack at Israel’s international airport in Tel Aviv. Security is extremely tight and traffic has been backed up at the airport during peak hours. Some people left vehicles waiting on the highway and ran along the shoulder of the road as far as a mile (2 km.) to the terminal. Passengers have been told to arrive three to four hours before flights, instead of the usual two. “We have to check…every car, we have to speak with every driver, and it takes a lot of time,” said airport spokesman Pinni Schiff. The security alert could last up to a week. With tourism already at an all time low, the last thing Israel needs is a terrorist attack at the airport. The alert went into effect yesterday evening, hours after a car bomb exploded in Gaza, killing the Palestinian bomber alone. Israel says it gave the Palestinian Authority specific information that the bombing was being planned, but the PA failed to act on it.

The United States has criticized both Israel and the Palestinians for the continuing bloodshed. “We’re deeply troubled over the upsurge…in violence,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. He also blasted Israel for demolishing 14 Palestinian homes yesterday in Jerusalem that were built without a permit. “We have urged the Israelis to desist from the demolition of Palestinian homes. Actions such as these are provocative and undermine relations between the parties and can only make more difficult efforts to restore calm.” At the same time, the State Department agreed with Israel that the seven-day period of quiet that would kick-off a US plan has not yet begun. “Both sides need to take steps, need to avoid provocative actions, need to take steps in terms of cooperation, to bring about that period of quiet,” Boucher said. The US has recently stepped back from Middle East mediation efforts after missions by CIA chief George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to produce results. “There is a sense of frustration,” a State Department official said.

About two million residents of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area were suddenly warned yesterday evening that tap water had been contaminated and was not fit for drinking, even if boiled. The contamination apparently was caused by fertilizer that leaked into the national water pipeline near an Arab city north of Tel Aviv. Officials say its almost certain that the water was not intentionally contaminated. Residents rushed to buy water and stores sold out quickly. Today, it was announced that water in many areas could be drunk if boiled, but other areas are still under the full ban. “WATER PANIC” read the headline in the daily “Yediot Ahronot” newspaper. All major dailies ran front-page pictures of long lines of people buying large quantities of mineral water. The Mei Eden mineral water company in northern Israel called in all employees to work after hours and rented extra trucks to ensure the water could be hauled to the center of the country. Some stores in the Tel Aviv area raised the prices of mineral water in an effort to make extra profits. Israel’s national pipeline stretches in uncovered aqueducts to the Tel Aviv area from the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, the source of about 40 percent of the country’s drinking water. Authorities have continued to pump from the lake despite dangerously low levels caused by a three-year drought. An enormous amount of precious water was wasted flushing the system clean.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has demanded that the United Nations hand over an unedited video tape connected to the abduction of three Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah guerillas last October. Sharon spoke to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan by telephone last night “and demanded…that the UN hand over to Israel all of the material at its disposal which could shed light on the fate of the Israeli soldiers,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. So far, the UN is not budging. “The decision was to offer an edited version of the videotape and I have no reason to think that will change,” said chief UN spokesman Fred Eckhard. Israel has said the attempt to release an altered version of the tape raises suspicions of complicity between some UN peacekeepers and the guerrillas. Hizbollah has said it would consider the peacekeepers to be enemy spies if the UN gave Israel the videotape. “We think a crime of sorts has been done here,” Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio. “The disappointment is very great…The United Nations…is cooperating…with Hizbollah.”

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