Israelis and Palestinians Brace for Long, Violent Haul

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

Jerusalem ( - A day after Israel struck Palestinian Authority military targets in retaliation for a spate of bombing and terrorist attacks, both sides seemed to be digging in for a long haul, with tensions and violence again on the rise.

Palestinian sources said two Palestinian youths were killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. The Israeli army said it did not know anything about the reported deaths, but it confirmed having wounded one Palestinian in the leg when a group of rioters broke through an army checkpoint there.

In another incident, a Palestinian wearing the uniform of Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17 unit was found dead on Thursday, following an overnight gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen the army said attacked a small Jewish community in Gaza.

Israel has in recent days accused Force 17 and other PA security force units of direct involvement in terrorism.

Speaking from Jordan, where the Palestinians won widespread Arab backing for their violent confrontation against Israel at a summit on Wednesday, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat said Israel was responsible for the spate of violence.

Two Israeli teenagers and a toddler were killed, and some 40 Israelis were injured over a two-day period. More casualties could have occurred, but two bombs were found and dismantled before detonation.

Late Wednesday Israel launched a helicopter strike against PA/Force 17 targets, hitting a weapons depot, armored vehicle station, training camp and two other installations during a 30-minute operation. Two Palestinians were reported killed and more than 60 wounded during the assault.

Arafat comments

In his first comment since the strike, Arafat on Thursday claimed Israel was preparing to carry out a 100-day military campaign against the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's advisor, Ra'anan Gissin, said Israel was engaged in a "long and arduous" struggle against terrorism, but denied that it was mounting tit-for-tat attacks.

"This is not retaliation," he said. "It is part of our ongoing policy."

Gissin said the PA had forced Israel to take the measures because it had not lived up to its commitments in previously signed agreements, which called for the PA to combat terrorism in specified ways.

Instead of extraditing terrorists or keeping them imprisoned, the PA released dozens from its jails at the beginning of the "uprising," which has dragged on since late September.

Gissin repeated the charge that Arafat's Force 17 was "directly involved in coordinating [terrorist] activities."

Sharon's security cabinet Wednesday empowered the prime minister, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, to take any anti-terror action they deemed necessary without first consulting the body.

PA officials have warned that Israel plans to recapture land ceded to the Palestinians. But one radio commentator said it appeared that Israel was returning to a policy it had pursued decades ago, when it would cross borders to launch commando raids against terrorist bases in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, then return without holding onto the territory itself.

Peres, a Laborite who is generally regarded as dovish, said in a radio interview that if terrorism stopped Israel would have no reason to respond. He also said that although Sharon had called Arafat a "terrorist leader," he would not be among the Israeli targets.

Washington reaction

In Washington, a White House spokesman urged both sides to "live up to the commitments they have made, combat terrorism and engage in dialogue."

"We recognize Israel's need to provide for its security," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. However, "we do not believe there is a military solution to this conflict," he added.

Sharon's office issued a statement on Thursday saying that the U.S. and other countries had been notified of Israel's action only after it had taken place.

"Israel will continue to preserve the element of surprise regarding its future operations against terrorist elements and their accomplices," it said.