Israeli Tanks and Troops Spread Out In PA Territories

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel expanded its military operations in West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, moving troops and tanks into Kalkilya. This follows a weekend of successive suicide bombings, which claimed the lives of 15 Israelis and others and left scores more wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon laid the blame for terrorism at the feet of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who remained defiant over the weekend, holed up in his Ramallah office surrounded by Israeli tanks and troops.

Israel launched "Operation Defensive Shield" on Friday, sending tanks and troops into Ramallah following the "Passover Massacre" -- a suicide bomb attack at a Netanya hotel, where Israelis and other Jews were marking the beginning of the Passover. Twenty-two people were killed.

Israel: This is War

Israeli troops exchanged gunfire with Palestinian gunmen in sporadic battles at the government compound in Ramallah over the weekend.

Arafat said he would rather die than surrender. But he continued to telephone outside his headquarters and at one point received a delegation of peace activists who defied Israeli orders to leave the area.

Israeli troops extended their reach into Kalkilya late Sunday night and tanks were reportedly maneuvering around Bethlehem, outside of Jerusalem.

Addressing the nation for the second time in three days, Sharon said that Israel was in a war against terrorism for its survival.

According to Sharon, Israel made every effort to reach a ceasefire and got terrorism in return, which he blamed for the first time directly on Arafat.

"This terror is being activated, directed and initiated by one man, Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority," Sharon said in the brief address.

"Arafat leads a coalition of terror and conducts a strategy of terror. The head of the Palestinian Authority is an enemy of Israel and an enemy of the entire free world.

"Whoever loves freedom, whoever has been educated in liberty and democracy must know that Arafat is an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Arafat is a danger to the entire region," he added.

PA official Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying that the speech was "void of substance, void of hope, void of realism." He accused Sharon of having "slammed the door" in the face of those who are trying to calm the situation.

The United Nations Security Council, including the U.S., called on Israel to pull out of the PA areas immediately and called for both Israel and the Palestinians to "cooperate fully" with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who is here to broker a ceasefire.

But following a bloody suicide attack in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, President Bush said that he understood why Israel it is taking this course of action.

"I fully understand Israel's need to defend herself," Bush said in a hastily arranged press conference from his ranch in Texas.

"It's a country that has seen a wave of suicide bombers coming into the hearts of their cities and killing innocent people. That country has a right to defend herself.

"And as she does so, I urge that their government, the Israeli government, make sure that there is a path to peace as she secures her homeland." Bush added that he had been assured that Arafat would not be harmed.

Suicide Attackers

Police and security officials remained on top alert on Monday in the face of warnings of more suicide bomb attacks. Israel's three largest cities - Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv - were each hit by suicide bomb attacks over the past three days.

On Sunday a suicide bomber blew himself up at a popular Haifa restaurant run by an Israeli Arab family. Packed with midday diners, the Matza restaurant was almost entirely obliterated by the blast, which left more than 30 people wounded in addition to the dead.

The owners had considered that a security guard at the establishment was not necessary since it was a gathering place for both Arabs and Jews, media reports suggested. Haifa is a mixed Arab and Jewish city where residents have lived together peacefully for generations. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the blast.

A short time later, 17-year-old Jamal Khameid from Bethlehem blew himself up at a Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) medical center in the settlement of Efrat, wounding six Israelis, one very seriously.

On Saturday evening, 34 Israelis were wounded, one critically in a suicide bomb attack at the My Coffee Shop caf\'e9 in the busy entertainment district of Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the day, border policeman Sgt.-Maj. Constantine Danilov was mortally wounded in a shootout with two Palestinian gunman, apparently on their way to carry out an attack in Israel. The two were armed with an automatic rifle, grenades and one was strapped with a bomb belt.

On Friday, two Israelis were killed when a teenage suicide bomber blew herself up at the entrance to a busy Jerusalem supermarket. One of the dead was the security guard, who prevented her entrance into the store.

Some 25 percent of the Israelis killed in terror attacks during the past 18 months were killed in the month of March. More than 120 of the 416 Israelis and others that have been killed in terror attacks were killed last month. More than 1200 Palestinians have been killed during the last 18 months.