Intifada slides toward war
The Israeli army attacked a Palestinian refugee camp yesterday in retaliation for earlier mortar fire.
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Speaking to Haaretz newspaper last week, the prime minister announced he has no intention of evacuating Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories - even if there is a peace. The settlements, built on land Israel occupied in 1967, which are illegal under international law, are a major stumbling block to negotiations. Just last week, the US condemned Israeli plans for settlement expansion, which Israelis attribute to "natural population increase[s]."Skip to next paragraph
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In the same newspaper interview, Sharon issued a warning to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, advising him that a unilateral declaration of statehood would prompt Israel to move militarily.
"It would demand that we take a series of steps to keep in our hands areas essential for us," Sharon said.
In this hostile atmosphere, there is little room for either Sharon or Mr. Arafat to negotiate without losing face.
If Arafat has enough control to end the intifada - a point of frequent debate - he could only do so if Israel offered him the olive branch of a concession or two. To do otherwise, Arafat would leave himself open to charges that he gave in to Sharon, a development that could pose physical as well as political risks.
Sharon, meanwhile, insists that any contact between his envoys and the Palestinians is simply to reduce violence.
The prime minister reportedly has given Foreign Minister Shimon Peres the green light to start new behind-the-scenes talks, though media reports stress that these talks would not involve diplomatic negotiations.
"The [Israeli] government is also walking this high wire," says Heller. "It has to look like it's not backing down from its commitment not to negotiate under fire, but when it says it's not negotiating, everybody takes that with a grain of salt. They understand Sharon can't stop the violence in a political vacuum."
In the meantime, the clashes continue. In the early morning hours yesterday, Israeli tanks and bulldozers rumbled into Khan Younis refugee camp, razing and damaging about 30 homes and an olive grove, and setting off a massive gun battle.
Hundreds of Palestinians responded to calls from mosque loudspeakers to join Palestinian security forces and fight back, according to wire reports that described chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) echoing through the streets. Two Palestinians were killed and 25 were injured in the confrontation.
Since fighting broke out in the fall, 467 people have been killed, including 384 Palestinians, 64 Israeli Jews and 19 others.
The Israelis, who codenamed the action "Enjoyable Song," were acting to remove barriers used by the Palestinians as cover for mortar and gunfire attacks on nearby settlements.
The operation, combined with the first daylight missile strikes for months against Palestinian police posts in Gaza on Tuesday, represented a sharp escalation by Israeli forces in their bid to stamp out firing on Jewish settlements.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor