North Gaza operation to be extended

DECISIVE BLOW: After two weeks of operations and 111 Palestinians dead, the Israeli prime minister has defied military advice to withdraw troops from northern Gaza


Wed, Oct 13, 2004 - Page 6

Israel's massive military operation into the northern Gaza Strip shows no sign of a let-up after two deadly weeks that have seen 111 Palestinians killed, mainly children, and Qassam rockets still being fired into Israeli territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has defied the advice of senior military commanders to withdraw from Gaza, Israeli media reported Monday.

Senior officers were reported to have told Sharon that Operation Days of Penitence, launched 14 days ago in a bid to halt rocket attacks on southern Israel, had now met its main objective.

But Sharon, keen to deliver a decisive blow to Gaza-based militant factions before next year's planned pullout, told top brass that they must push on with the operation.

Much of the operation has been centered on the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the territory. But Haaretz cited senior officers as saying troops were being exposed to an unnecessarily high risk by remaining in the densely populated camp and that rocket launchers had also been moved from Jabaliya.

A total of 111 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Days of Penitence, which is the army's deadliest offensive in the territory, began on Sept. 28.

Jabaliya, home to 103,646 ref-ugees, is a squalid network of narrow streets where most people are more concerned about the lack of electricity, running water and food than Qassam rockets.

"It's terrible," said Mohammed. "You go to the hospital and see horrible injuries and children killed by indiscriminate firing directed by Israeli drones. Some people in Jabaliya don't even have water or milk to feed babies."

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which is responsible for the camp, has only been able to deliver three convoys of humanitarian aid, with a fourth due yesterday.

Those convoys will feed around 9,000 people.

"The situation around the camp is extremely bad," said Lionel Brisson, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza. "We're doing less than expected because we cannot bring in supplies."

Brisson questioned the Israeli tactic of collective punishment.

"The regime of closures is one of strangulation," he said. "Israelis are invoking security reasons but it is affecting the whole population, and making people more desperate ... I'm not convinced it'll work.

"There is a general fatigue in the [Gaza] population. They want peace, to live in peace.

"The economic situation in Gaza is very negative. Some 70 percent of the population are living below the poverty line ... and unemployment stands at 44 percent," Brisson said, adding that 120 houses a month are being demolished by Israeli forces.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom indicated Monday that the operation in Jabaliya would soon be over although Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was more circumspect.

"We are in the last stages of the operation in Jabaliya after the army registered a clear success and hit the terrorist infrastruc-ture," Shalom told reporters.