Israel Denies Incursion Into PA Area

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Amidst warnings of a possible upsurge in Palestinian terror attacks and accusations that Israel is infringing on Palestinian Authority territory, Washington is dispatching a special envoy to the region to help maintain contacts between Israel and the PA.

That may prove to be a difficult job, given recent developments.

A fierce battle erupted in the Gaza Strip Tuesday after Israel moved into an area near the Israeli-Egyptian border with bulldozers to demolish several buildings it said were being used to shield terrorists. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded - one very seriously - by a grenade thrown at their jeep and three Palestinians were also reported wounded in the fighting.

Israel denied PA accusations that it had invaded PA-controlled territory.

The Israeli army said in the past week, a number of attacks have been directed at Israeli troops from the area where the buildings were located. Those attacks included some 270 grenade launches, as well as five anti-tank attacks and the discharge of five other explosive charges.

A PA official said Israel had moved 100 yards into the PA controlled Rafah refugee camp to knock down the buildings. However, the Israeli army insisted that the area where the buildings were standing was under its security control.

Palestinian officials charged that the demolitions represented an Israeli escalation, while Israel insisted that it is the only side maintaining the ceasefire agreement, brokered by CIA chief George Tenet last month.

"According to our assessment there is not a keeping of the ceasefire from the Palestinian side," said Israeli army spokesman Lt.-Col. Olivier Rafowicz. Israel is facing a continuing terrorist threat while maintaining a unilateral ceasefire from its side, he added.

Israel has lost more civilians in the month since declaring a ceasefire than at any other time since the trouble began ten months ago, Rafowitz said in a telephone interview. There have been more Israeli casualties because Israel is restraining itself and keeping the ceasefire agreement, he said.

Along the border with Egypt, Israel is "facing a war." That is why Israel took the action to demolish the buildings adjacent to the Israeli side, he added.

Bulldozers in Jerusalem

The demolitions in the Gaza Strip came just hours after bulldozers plowed down 14 houses in the Shuafat refugee camp just north of Jerusalem. The structures were built illegally without a permit.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert defended the demolitions, saying that no one was being left homeless. The houses, he said were "being built lawlessly on public lands, pathways and green areas, in clear-cut and total violation of the law."

The policy of demolishing illegally built structures in the area predates the state of Israel. But Arab residents of the disputed territories still under Israeli control argue that it is difficult for them to obtain permits to build.

Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudieneh was quoted on Tuesday as saying that what he called Israel's "policy of escalation, of assassinations, of demolishing homes" would "lead to very dangerous reactions." He called the Israeli bulldozing of buildings during the last two days "a real escalation."

Gaza Strip security chief, General Abd-el-Rajak-el-Majiada, agreed and said the razing of buildings represented "an unacceptable new escalation by Israel."

In the meantime, Israeli security sources are warning of an upsurge in terrorist attacks, including car and suicide bombings.

On Monday, travelers planning to leave Israel through the country's main international airport near Tel Aviv were caught in a massive security clampdown after the security establishment said it had received specific information about a potential car-bomb attack there.

Security officials thoroughly checked each car and passenger entering the airport. On Tuesday, Flights leaving Israel were reportedly facing delays as passengers were still being held up by the intensified security checks.

Diplomatic Dispatch

Because of the sensitive situation on the ground, Washington is sending the new deputy assistant for Near East Affairs, David Satterfield, on a mission to Israel and the PA for an undetermined length of time.

"He will be maintaining contact with the parties," a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv said on Tuesday.

His stay comes at a time when the U.S. Consul-General Ron Schlicher - who is responsible for the areas under PA control - is away on leave and U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk is being replaced in Israel by U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer.

Satterfield recently finished a term as Ambassador to Lebanon and is "very experienced in the region," the spokesman said. His mission will be to encourage the sides to fulfill their commitments to follow the recommendations made by a fact-finding committee led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday that the U.S. is "looking to get back to a sustained effort of coordination and to maximum efforts on the part of both parties, but particularly the Palestinians, to stop the violence the way people are committed to do so in the Mitchell process."