Israeli Troops To Stay In PA Areas 'As Long As Necessary'
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli troops currently surrounding and controlling most Palestinian Authority cities on the West Bank will stay there "as long as necessary" to fight terrorism, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Sharon told members of his Likud party Knesset faction that he is trying to come up with a diplomatic initiative to move ahead with the outline President Bush presented in his Middle East policy address last week.
"It's important for the initiative to be in our hands," Sharon told party members Monday evening.
"The time has not yet come to detail the steps we are taking, but I can say the efforts are already under way in the thinking process about what path to take to advance," he said.
Sharon's advisor, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, said Bush's speech had outlined a way to return to the diplomatic process.
"President Bush created a unique opportunity to pursue the political path," Gissin said. "The government of Israel is keen on seizing the opportunity."
In his address, Bush called for a complete cessation of violence and terrorism as well as an overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, including new leadership, as a precursor to renewing the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians, Gissin noted.
He also challenged Israel "to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state."
"Whoever thinks that after [Bush's] speech we will rest on our laurels is wrong," Sharon said. He added that consultations would be held with the foreign and defense ministries to try to come up with ideas on the diplomatic front.
Neither Sharon nor his advisor gave details about the Israeli initiative except to note Israeli efforts to ease the curfew on Palestinian cities, even as Israel maintains its war against terror.
Sharon said he had given "clear orders" last week "to ease the situation of Palestinian citizens uninvolved with terror."
"The Palestinian society is under great duress and extremely difficult conditions," Gissin said. But that came as a result of being under "Arafat's occupation" for the last eight years, he added.
Thousands of Palestinians marched in the streets of the Gaza Strip on Monday, demanding jobs and food and accusing the PA of corruption. But they stopped short of pointing the finger at Arafat himself, and PA officials laid the blame at the feet of Israel.
Unemployment is about 60 percent in the Gaza Strip now.
Curfews in Hebron and Bethlehem were lifted for most of the day on Tuesday, an army spokesperson said. The army also lifted the curfew indefinitely in Kalkilya but maintained a tight closure around the town. Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus and Ramallah remained under curfew.
Dozens of Palestinians have been arrested during the operation thus far, an army spokesperson said.
Gissin said that the Israeli army would stay in Palestinian areas until "we complete what we're doing right now" and until there is a marked drop in the level of terrorism. He said that until there is new leadership and reform within the PA, Israel is obligated to continue to fight terror in the areas under PA control.
"We're doing it," he said. "We don't trust them to do it."
Israel, meanwhile, initiated a further call-up of reserve soldiers to continue its "Determined Path" anti-terror operation, media reports said.