Ongoing Attacks in Gaza Strip Threatening Gaza-Bethlehem Deal

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Gaza Strip ( - Ongoing attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets in the Gaza Strip are threatening chances that the Gaza-Bethlehem First deal will succeed, a high-ranking Israeli officer said on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Israel has gone ahead with the erection of a security fence to separate three Israeli settlements along the northern boundary from hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living nearby, military sources said during an army arranged tour for journalists in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

The fence, which will be equipped with sensors and cameras, is intended to buttress the settlements and prevent Palestinians from reaching the road leading to the communities.

The northern area was relatively quiet and free from terror attacks until the intifadah began two years ago, which has prompted the building of the new fence, military sources said.

Since then there have been numerous attempts to infiltrate the communities there by land and by sea.

The new fence will also create a de facto buffer zone between Gaza Strip Palestinians and the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and its major power plant less than five miles away.

The Mediterranean seaside Gaza Strip is home to about 1.4 million Palestinians and just over 5,000 Israelis spread out in 18 communities. Surrounded by about 42 miles of security fence, the Gaza Strip is effectively sealed off from Israel.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed two weeks ago on a plan whereby Israel would turn over security control to the PA in areas that are quiet in exchange for a Palestinian pledge to keep it that way.

Israeli troops left Bethlehem within a day of the Gaza-Bethlehem First agreement and it has been quiet there but mortar attacks, sniper fire and infiltration attempts into Jewish communities in Gaza have continued.

General Israel Ziv, commander of the Gaza Strip, said it was clear that the PA had taken some steps to redeploy its forces in the field, taking responsibility "in some of the more sensitive places," but it is still not enough.

"We also see some real steps that they are doing in order to control the area to reduce the amount of terror activity but still it's far from what we wish it to be," Ziv told reporters.

Since April, there have been 1,452 shooting, mortar, grenade, anti-tank missile, rocket, roadside bomb, booby-trapped cars and infiltration attempts from the Gaza Strip alone.

Figures are not yet available for the last two weeks since the Israeli-PA agreement was made, but Ziv said attacks are still continuing.

"There is still mortar shooting, sniper shooting and two attempts of [infiltration]," Ziv said. "This is of course not what we expect... The results are that the amount of terror activity has been reduced but the still ongoing activity is [en]dangering the whole process."

Israel's killing of a woman, her two grown sons and their cousin from tank fire last week has also been a stumbling block to the plan. But Israel and the PA are investigating the incident together, the military source said.

The family was spotted in a forbidden area at night in the sand dunes near a settlement, when the tank opened fire killing them.

Ziv admitted that the job of the PA police is not a simple one particularly since there has been "great opposition" to the plan by radical groups. Average Palestinians, who are disenchanted by the lack of progress in the PA over the last two years are also suspicious of the plan, he added.

The PA must "win back the trust of the population to reduce the opposition strength in the field [and] in the Palestinian street," he said.

Militant groups on Tuesday reiterated their rejection of a call by PA Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yahya to end terror attacks against Israel.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the al-Aksa Martyrs brigade (linked to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction), all said that their "resistance" would continue until the end of occupation.

Groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject any negotiated settlement with Israel and consider all of the disputed territories as well as Israel to be "occupied."

Yahya, in charge of reforms in the PA security services, called on militant groups to suspend attacks against Israel on Monday.

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