Israel Won't Back Down On 'Operation Defensive Shield'
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday that the Israeli military operation in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas would continue until it achieved its goals of routing terrorism, despite President Bush's appeal to leave the areas.
In an address to the nation Thursday, Bush said that America recognizes Israel's right to self-defense but called on Israel to halt its incursions into PA-controlled areas.
Israeli officials were not commenting on the president's speech. Instead Sharon's media advisor released a statement in which the Israeli leader said that 'Operation Defensive Shield' would continue.
Israeli tanks and troops have moved into almost all major PA-controlled areas in an operation, which Israeli officials say is aimed at destroying the terrorist infrastructure by arresting wanted terrorists, destroying bomb-making factories and collecting illegal weapons.
Israel has come under intense international pressure to withdraw its troops from the PA areas since it entered the first city, Ramallah, a week ago following a deadly suicide bomb attack that claimed the lives of 26 people on the eve of Passover.
Bush's speech represented what both Israeli and American commentators termed a 180-degree turnaround from just a few days ago when he said he could understand "why the Israeli government takes the actions they take. Their country is under attack."
In the meantime, there have been violent anti-Israel and to a certain extent anti-American protests throughout the Arab world as well as pressure from European leaders for Washington to force Israel to withdraw its troops.
Shortly after Bush's speech, lawmaker Silvan Shalom said in a television interview that Israel had not achieved its objectives in the PA-controlled areas and thus would not be leaving.
Sharon, who met with Washington's envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni earlier in the day, also said that Zinni would be allowed to meet with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Sharon had previously said that Zinni would not be allowed to meet the Palestinian leader, whom Israel has penned up in "isolation" in his Ramallah headquarters.
The prime minister said that he told Zinni that terror and those who organize it must be defeated before Israel and the Palestinians can reach the point of starting a political process.
"To this end, 'Operation Defensive Shield' will continue in order to achieve the goal set by the government," the prime minister's media advisor said in a statement.
Sharon emphasized that "a capitulation to the terror of the suicide-attackers would lead to the spread of this awful type of terrorism in the world. Therefore, determined action must be taken against it and Israel will do this," the statement said.
According to Sharon's assessment, starting political negotiations at this point would lead to a "continuation and intensification" of terror. Israel demanded that fugitives and illegal weapons be handed over immediately.
Prior to the Bush address, reserve Maj.-Gen. Avraham Rotem said by telephone that the only problem facing Israel at this point was whether or not the Israeli government had the "determination" to follow through with the operation that it had begun.
"If again they stop it in the middle, it will be very, very bad," Rotem said. The only way to deal with the terrorism is to gather all the weapons, dismantle the factories, no matter how primitive they are, arrest the terrorist and expose the "entire bluff" to the world, he said.
According to Rotem, if Israel will have the "courage and determination" to finish the job, then they can afford to be very "generous" to the Palestinians.
Counter-terrorism expert Ely Karmon said earlier that he hoped that Israel would have had two to three weeks to finish the job of routing the terrorists before the heavy international pressure would start.
In his address, Bush also said he is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week to carry the message that Arab leaders need to take action against terrorism.
He also delivered some of his harshest criticism yet to Arafat, saying that "The situation in which he finds himself today is largely of his own making."
Bush also warned Syria and Iran against stirring up the region by fomenting more violence. Both countries are accused by Israel of backing the Hizballah in southern Lebanon, which has repeatedly attacked northern Israeli outposts during the last few days.
"To those who would try to use the current crisis as an opportunity to widen the conflict: Stay out," Bush said.
Most of the Palestinian leadership are now in cities, which are under siege. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is situated in Jericho, which Israel has not invaded, was unable to answer repeated calls for his comments on the speech.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued their operation in the PA-controlled cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Kalkilya, Jenin, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Salfit.
Media reports suggested the army had also entered Hebron, but security sources said that the army's movements there were not intended to take over the city.
E-mail a news tip to Julie Stahl.
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