Israel will gradually reoccupy Palestinian areas until terrorism stops, the government announced yesterday in a major policy change prompted by a bus bombing that killed 19 Israelis, and Israeli troops raided three West Bank towns from which dozens of terror attacks have been launched.
In one area -- the town of Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp -- troops were seen apparently preparing for an extended stay, bringing along mobile homes on flatbed trucks of the kind often used for setting up permanent positions.
There was no immediate US response to Israel's dramatic decision to change the West Bank map and take another step toward toppling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority, just as US President George W. Bush is preparing to announce plans for getting a Palestinian state off the ground. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adamantly opposes any form of Palestinian statehood at this time.
White House officials said Tuesday's bomb attack by the extremist Islamic group Hamas has delayed Bush's announcement until Thursday or Friday while the president completes his decisions and puts some distance between the attack and his announcement.
The Israeli decision to recapture Palestinian territory came after late-night consultations between Sharon and his coalition partners.
"Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing Palestinian Authority territory," Sharon's office announced. "These areas will be held as long as terror continues. Additional acts of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas."
Arafat aides said Israel's new policy would only cause further bloodshed and push militias to carry out more attacks. The Palestinian leader, in a meeting with UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, stressed that "such a policy ... will sabotage international efforts to save the peace process," according to Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
Jibril Rajoub, the Palestinians' West Bank security chief, said the Palestinians cannot cooperate with Israel now to arrest those behind suicide attacks.
"As long as the Israelis are continuing their invasion -- using their tanks, F-16s and Apaches [attack helicopters] -- there will be no arrests of any Palestinian," Rajoub told reporters from Egypt, where he was meeting with officials about Palestinian security matters.
However, several dozen prominent Palestinians, led by legislator Hanan Ashrawi and the Palestinians' senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, signed a full-page newspaper ad urging groups behind deadly assaults on Israeli civilians to "stop sending our young people to carry out such attacks."
"We see no results in such attacks, but a deepening of the hatred between both peoples and a deepening of the gap between us," the ad in Al Quds newspaper said. It urged all Palestinians who support such a call to sign on to it.
Right-wing members of the Israeli government long have demanded Israel retake all areas handed to the Palestinians under interim peace accords in the mid-1990s, but the moderate Labor Party has resisted such a step.
Sharon told Cabinet ministers Tuesday that although he favored Arafat's expulsion, he would not override Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and the security chiefs who oppose such a step as counterproductive, Israeli media said.
Israel Radio reported yesterday that security officials also were considering expelling Arafat aides.