Cycle of retaliation expected
- 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.
By MARY CURTIUS
TIMES STAFF WRITER
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
"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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