Israel's Sharon Pledges Offensive Against Terrorism

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to wage a "wide-ranging and continuous" struggle against terrorism on Thursday following a suicide bomb attack in the northern Israeli city of Hadera. Sharon also said he would not meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as long as the P.A. was not fighting terrorism.

Within hours, Israeli troops backed by helicopters and dozens of armored vehicles staged a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, arresting a local Islamic Jihad leader and several others, reports said.

Security sources confirmed that a military operation had taken place in the city and that troops had arrested some six fugitives and withdrawn from the city.

Sharon blamed the Palestinian Authority for not taking battling terrorism seriously and said that therefore Israel would have to do the job.

"Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority is not taking any serious steps in the struggle against terrorism," Sharon said prior to a meeting with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

"We are not prepared in any way to countenance continued terrorism; therefore, our activity will be wide-ranging and continuous until we have brought about the cessation of terrorism," Sharon said.

Israel's intensified offensive will take place in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on its website. Terrorists are still firing rockets at Israeli cities outside the Gaza Strip despite Israel's pullout last month.

Nine Palestinian terrorists were arrested in the West Bank overnight by Israeli forces, and security checks throughout the West Bank were increased, the army said.

Israel slapped a complete closure on the territories, which prevents Palestinians from entering Israel. The Erez and Karni crossing points from Gaza into Israel - which were reopened earlier this week -- were closed again.

In the south, the Israeli Air Force targeted two open areas in the northern and southern Gaza Strip used to launch rockets at Israeli cities. Israeli officials said that Israel would continue and intensify its anti-terrorist operations as long as the P.A. was failing to act.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Wednesday's terrorist attack in which five people were killed and more than 30 wounded when a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up in front of a popular falafel stand at Hadera's outdoor market.

The group released a video on Thursday, in which 20-year-old Hassan Abu Zeid, said he was carrying out the terror attack in revenge for the killing earlier this week of Luay Sa'adi, a top Islamic Jihad militant in the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Sa'adi, whom Israel accused of involvement in two deadly suicide bombings this year, was killed in a shootout with Israeli troops during an arrest operation on Monday.

Sharon's spokesman Dr. Ra'anan Gissin said earlier that there was no way Islamic Jihad had planned the attack in just 48 hours, and therefore it could not have been a revenge attack, he said.

No meeting

Lavrov condemned Wednesday's terrorist attack and said that he had met Wednesday with Abbas, who had also condemned the attack. Abbas, he said, had said that he was waiting to move on the terrorists until his security forces were strong enough.

"He [Abbas] is ready for concrete steps and we believe that he must continue to be supported in every way possible, politically and materially," said Lavrov. "This is not an easy process and we must continue it."

But Sharon said that there would be no political movement unless the P.A. took "tangible steps" to fight terror.

"The Palestinians are not taking any tangible steps to either fight terrorism or dismantle its infrastructures ... If the P.A. does not take serious and tangible action against terrorism, there will be no diplomatic progress and that would be a pity," Sharon said.

"In such a situation, I will not meet with Abu Mazen [Abbas] and the Palestinians are losing all of their national dreams due to this situation. We are not happy to take military action but we cannot countenance a situation of terrorism," Sharon said.

A meeting between Abbas and Sharon has already been postponed twice this month. The Palestinians want to make sure that they will come out of the meeting with some substantial gestures. One of which is the release of security prisoners.

But Israel is leery of releasing prisoners and making other concessions, which could endanger Israel's security.

P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said that the P.A. had condemned the Hadera terror attack. "It doesn't serve our people's interests, but at the same time we condemn the Israeli aggression. This aggression doesn't ensure calm," Qureia was quoted as saying.

Iran and Syria

Israeli officials have blamed both Iran and Syria for being behind Wednesday's terror attack.

Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, is trained, equipped and funded by Iran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The group's headquarters, where orders for the attack were given, is in Damascus, Gissin said.

Both Iran and Syria are already in the international hot seat.

A United Nations report released last week pointed the finger at Syrian officials for being involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri earlier this year.

The U.S. has also accused Syria of allowing insurgents free passage across its border to attack allied troops in Iraq, and Washington has called on Syria to close down the headquarters of some dozen Palestinian terror groups based in Damascus.

Syria has denied all of the above charges.

Iran is also under international pressure regarding its nuclear development program. The U.S. would like to see the issue handed over to the U.N. Security Council. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinehad also reaped international condemnation today for saying in a speech that it was a good idea for Israel to be "wiped off the face of the earth."

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