Israel Takes New Tack to Quell Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel apparently is changing the way it plans to handle continuing clashes with Palestinian rioters, as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat vowed the confrontation would continue until a Palestinian flag flies over the disputed Temple Mount.

Violent clashes continued over the weekend, with Israel sending tanks into the Gaza Strip after a fierce gun battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.

Another five Palestinians were killed in clashes on Sunday, bringing the death toll since the campaign of violence began late last month to at least 145, including eight Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs.

Two Israeli fatalities were reported over the weekend, although the circumstances surrounding their deaths remain unclear. The body of an apparently orthodox Jew
was found near PA-ruled Beit Jalla, south of Jerusalem. PA police transferred the body to the Israelis Monday.

The burnt body of a 25-year-old Israeli, bearing gunshot wounds, was also found at the weekend, although Israeli authorities are not certain the killing was politically-motivated.

In other incident, a bomb was detonated alongside an Israeli civilian bus in the Gaza Strip but failed to harm anyone. Shooting attacks continued in various parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army chief, Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz, announced that Israel would begin to use a new strategy aimed at quelling the violence.

Mofaz said Israel needed to "move to a level where [its] operations are more initiated and less retaliatory."

Until now, Israel says it has pursued a policy of firing or responding only when its troops and civilians have come under attack.

Details of how the new action would work are being kept under wraps, but military sources are quoted as saying there would be quiet, initiated actions such as seeking out those responsible for live fire attacks.

But Arafat has pledging that the uprising, or intifada, will continue until the Palestinians rule over the Temple Mount and eastern Jerusalem.

"Our people will remain steadfast until a boy or a girl holds the flag of Palestine over Jerusalem, the capital of our Palestinian state," a grinning Arafat told reporters after dedicating a hospital in Gaza City on Sunday.

In speech read on Arafat's behalf in Gaza, the general-secretary of the PA presidency, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, said the Palestinians were able to continue the "confrontation" for years.

"We are not afraid of your warnings, and the blessed intifada of our people will continue," he said. "They claim that we send our children to face tanks, but they don't know that the anger has even reached our children ...We are insisting on independence."

National unity

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who continues his efforts to form a national emergency government with opposition leader Ariel Sharon to cope with the crisis, faces the opening Monday of what is predicted to be a stormy winter session of the Israeli parliament.

Lawmakers from both parties succeeded in formulating a draft agreement in weekend talks.

President Clinton has reportedly been eager to block Sharon's entrance into the government, fearing it would lead to the final collapse of the seven-year negotiating process he has overseen.

A government including the Likud would make it more difficult for Barak to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The agreement reportedly gives Sharon the right to veto any decision regarding the peace process.

He also wants a say in the decision on how Israel should respond to a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, which after several prior postponements Arafat is now expected possibly to make before the end of the year.

Sharon said he told Barak this was his "last chance."

"Yasser Arafat goes back on every agreement. This is your chance to say, 'I am adopting a new line of policy,'" Sharon reportedly told Barak.

Sharon says he favors talks with the Palestinians, but opposes the continuation of the current process. He rejects completely understandings reached at a U.S-sponsored summit at Camp David last July.

Barak went way beyond his own stated red lines, and beyond what many Israelis could swallow, in saying what Israel was prepared to concede to Arafat.

Although Camp David collapsed after Arafat turned down the Israeli offer as inadequate, it was widely believed that any further negotiations would pick up where those talks left off.

But Barak himself has said that those proposals had been nullified by Arafat's rejection.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara on Sunday accused Barak of killing the peace process by trying to form a government with Sharon.

He accused the Israeli government of "threatening Syria and Lebanon, escalating tension in the region, and moving toward extremism and cooperation with extremists."

War fears

Shara's remarks came as Israel's security establishment warned that conflict along Israel's northern border could escalate into war with Syria, the Hizballah terrorist organization, and Iraq.

According to deputy army chief, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, Hizballah has received a green light from Damascus to escalate confrontations along Israel's northern border.

The Israeli army is preparing for attacks along the northern border, following a series of shooting attacks across the border and a massive demonstration on the Lebanese side.

The war warnings come less than six months after Israel redeployed its forces in May outside of a buffer zone it had maintained within Lebanon for more than 15 years.