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Cycle of retaliation expected

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  • Josh Pollack
    Los Angeles Times August 2 2001 Fears Grow That Mideast Strife Has Crossed a Dangerous Line Conflict: Israeli attack on Hamas leadership and calls for revenge
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2, 2001
      Los Angeles Times
      August 2 2001
      Fears Grow That Mideast Strife Has Crossed a Dangerous Line
      Conflict: Israeli attack on Hamas leadership and calls for revenge are seen
      as the beginning of an explosive new phase. Sharon defends action.


      JERUSALEM -- Israel's slaying of two senior leaders of the Hamas Islamic
      movement pushed its 10-month-old conflict with the Palestinians into a new
      and explosive phase Wednesday, with both sides saying they may be unable to
      pull back from the brink of wide-scale conflict.

      Thousands of Palestinians shouted for revenge at the funerals of the Hamas
      leaders and six others--including two children--killed in Tuesday's
      helicopter gunship attack in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of

      In Israel, security forces went on high alert, bracing for the retaliatory
      attack that Hamas promised would come. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
      government rejected international criticism of the killings, vowing to
      continue its policy of hunting down militants. Throughout the day, scattered
      clashes and shooting incidents were reported in the West Bank and Gaza

      In Hebron, the only West Bank city where administration is divided between
      Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen
      battled for hours and Israel lobbed tank shells into the
      Palestinian-controlled areas. A Palestinian was shot dead in the fighting.

      In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians fired dozens of mortar shells into Israeli
      settlements, but no injuries were reported.

      Nearly everyone seemed convinced that worse is to come.

      Israel's attack on senior political leaders, who belonged to a movement that
      rejects the notion of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the
      Palestinians, united Palestinian factions in calls for revenge. If militants
      succeed in carrying out a large-scale attack on Israelis, it could trigger
      the Israeli government's approval of a massive retaliation against the
      Palestinian Authority.

      "It is time to stop at the edge of the precipice," Yossi Sarid, left-wing
      leader of Israel's parliamentary opposition, wrote in the mass-circulation
      daily Yediot Aharonot.

      Unmoved by harsh criticism of the Nablus killings from the U.S. government
      and others, Sharon called the operation "one of Israel's most important
      successes." His government insisted that the Hamas leaders who died when
      missiles slammed into their downtown offices had orchestrated 10 bombing
      attacks on Israeli cities since September and were planning more.

      Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz told reporters that "had we
      known that children would be hurt, we wouldn't have attacked the target."
      Israel, he said, does not "want to come to war, but we have the right and
      the obligation to fight terrorism."

      "From now on, authorization will be given to attack more targets that are
      identified as the 'operational heads of the snake,' " wrote Zeev Schiff, a
      military analyst for Haaretz newspaper. "A cycle of extremism has been
      created: a series of Palestinian terrorist activities are answered by a
      sharp retaliation, either in method or in the targets of the attack."

      But Israeli critics warned that Israel has crossed a red line. By moving an
      echelon above the bomb makers, the government has precluded the already
      remote possibility of obtaining a cease-fire with the Palestinian Authority
      and virtually ensured more Israeli casualties in the fighting, which has
      claimed the lives of more than 600 Palestinians and Israelis.

      "One must remember that what Hamas loses in ability, it makes up in
      motivation, and the question is which is more dangerous," wrote political
      analyst Hemi Shalev in the daily Maariv. "Only the terror attacks of the
      future will tell whether the benefits of the assassination of the Hamas
      senior figures are not outweighed by the loss of the lives of dozens more

      The Palestinians, too, "will stop functioning within limits which they had
      previously stayed within," warned Haaretz security analyst Reuven Pedhatzur.
      "We are caught up here in a whirlpool. . . . We are taking step after step
      toward a kind of whirlpool which will bring us to a war that nobody wants."

      Indeed, Hamas leaders vowed that they will now target Sharon, Foreign
      Minister Shimon Peres and other senior Israeli political leaders.

      "Hamas now needs to demonstrate that it still has the ability to attack,"
      said Ziad abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator and academic in Gaza.

      The Nablus attack, Abu Amr said, makes it impossible for the Palestinian
      Authority to move against Hamas, as Israel has demanded that it do. The
      militant Islamic movement lost prestige and influence during the last seven
      years of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but it has grown in
      popularity during the uprising because of its willingness to carry out
      suicide attacks against Israelis.

      A senior member of the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President
      Yasser Arafat on Wednesday endorsed attacks on Israelis. Speaking on a
      Palestinian Television talk show, Samir Masharawi, a colonel in Fatah, said
      the Palestinians "have to protect ourselves and to protect our cadres by
      hitting the security of the others--this is the only way to stop the

      A series of bus bombings unleashed on Israel by Hamas in 1996, after Israel
      killed the group's bomb maker, Yehiya Ayash, was "a good lesson to the
      Israelis," Masharawi said. "I insist this is a legal defense for us because
      it is the only way we can do it."

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