Israel has US backing for its deterrent weapons, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an oblique reference to his country's secret nuclear arms.
He also claimed US support for key elements of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians.
In Gaza before daybreak yesterday, meanwhile, Israeli troops moved to the outskirts of Beit Lahiya, a town near the northern edge of the territory, residents said. Israeli forces have held neighboring Beit Hanoun for a month, trying to prevent militants from firing rockets at Israeli towns just outside Gaza.
Despite the ongoing operation, Palestinian militants yesterday fired two Qassam rockets from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel but caused no injuries, the army said.
Speaking at a political party gathering in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Sharon said the US backs Israel in keeping control of main West Bank settlements, drawing secure borders that include parts of the West Bank in Israel and banning Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Israel.
Hinting at nuclear weapons, Sharon said the US recognizes that "Israel faces an existential threat, and it must be able to defend itself by itself by preserving its deterrent capability."
Sharon noted that Iran is under US pressure to stop its nuclear weapons program, and Libya took steps to halt its nuclear arms development, but "we have received here a clear American position that says in other words that Israel must not be touched when it comes to its deterrent capability."
Israel has never admitted possessing nuclear weapons, maintaining a policy of ambiguity. However, based on pictures and information given to the Sunday Times in 1987 by whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, experts have concluded that Israel has perhaps hundreds of nuclear bombs.
Sharon said the US backs "Israel's right to defend itself by itself against threats at any place and to preserve Israel's deterrent power against all threats."
In Washington, a State Department official would say only that the US supports Israel's right of self-defense.
Critics of Israeli and US policy have questioned why the US has pressed Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons, when Israel faces no similar pressure. Most of the international community -- led by Arab states -- has pushed Israel to reveal its nuclear capabilities, despite the US reluctance to do push Israel on the issue.
In his address to party activists, Sharon defended his "unilateral disengagement" plan, including evacuation of Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. The party voted overwhelmingly against the plan on April 2.
Sharon said the plan "is the most important for Israel at this time. It would be irresponsible for me to back away from it now."
He said that with the plan, he gained US support for the main elements of Israeli policy.
"The US position is that the large settlement blocs would remain under Israeli control, and the rest of the West Bank would be open to negotiations," he said.
Also, he said, the US backs the Israeli position that "there will be no return of any [Palestinian] refugees to the state of Israel. We have never got that before in 56 years of Israel's existence."
Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and Gaza for a state, demanding that all 150 Jewish settlements there be dismantled.
Also, Palestinians insist on the "right of return" of refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants -- about 4 million people all together -- to their original homes in Israel. Israel rejects that claim as a ploy to undermine the Jewish character of their state.
In violence in Gaza on Thursday, an Israeli missile strike on a Palestinian car killed two militants and sparked calls for revenge.
One of the dead was Amr Abu Suta, a militant leader whom Israel accused of involvement in the 1992 killing of three Israeli soldiers in a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
The two were commanders of the Ahmed Abu Reish Brigade -- a breakaway from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. The group took responsibility for a wave of kidnappings in Gaza last week.
Israel's strike was part of a long-standing policy of "targeted killings" of militants. Israel says the practice is necessary to fight terrorism, but Palestinians and human rights groups say it amounts to extra-judicial executions.
A funeral for the two slain militants drew 5,000 people in Gaza, among them a masked man with a Kalashnikov rifle and four hand grenades around his belt.
"God willing, Sharon and his soldiers will pay a heavy price for this crime. Our retaliation is coming soon," he declared.
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
An Australian graduate student arrested for spying and expelled from North Korea last year said that he was threatened with a firing-squad execution and told not even US President Donald Trump could save his “sorry arse.” Among the crimes Alek Sigley was accused of committing was posting a picture of a toy tank on Instagram, which his interrogators told him was military espionage. Sigley, 30, was studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang when he went missing in June last year, sparking alarm. A fluent speaker of Korean, he had written articles for several publications