Israeli postponed or called-off its plan to move into the
Gaza Strip in order to root out terrorists there. It sent
home some reservists who had been called-up, but others
remain on alert. The army remains poised around Gaza and it
is not clear if these moves are the result of genuine
decisions to postpone the action, or an attempt to put the
terrorists in Gaza off balance to restore the element of
surprise in a subsequent attack.
In the meantime, the decision to shelve the incursion into
the Gaza Strip makes diplomatic efforts to end the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict easier.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-
Eliezer announced Sunday that they were halting the
operation, saying that leaks from Israeli army officers and
Cabinet ministers had given Palestinian militants time to go
underground. The operation was originally planned in direct
response to a suicide bombing last week in Rishon Letzion
that killed 15 Israelis and wounded 60 others.
Despite Israel's military campaign in the West Bank, a senior
defense ministry official said, "we are intercepting almost
one suicide bomber a day and finding a car bomb a day."
Ben-Eliezer stressed Sunday that Israel still has a plan to
take steps against terrorists and is ready to implement the
plan at the appropriate time. Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz was
a strong backer of an immediate incursion.
Political observers said that there was strong diplomatic
pressure, particularly from the United States, and there was
also disagreement in the military over the action. Some
senior military officers reportedly said there may be heavy
Israeli and Palestinian casualties.
U.S. officials had reportedly warned Sharon that a massive
operation in the Gaza Strip could hurt efforts to bring about
reforms in the Palestinian Authority
One of the senior Palestinian officials whose name has come
up as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President
Yasser Arafat is Mohammed Dahlan, the head of the Palestinian
preventative security service in Gaza.
Israeli troops pulled out of Bethlehem just last Friday, when
the 38-day standoff at the church ended nonviolently.
Thirteen Palestinian terror suspects were flown into Cyprus
en route to other countries, while 26 others were sent to
Gaza. Israel says the 13 were involved in numerous terrorist
attacks against Israelis. Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that Israel
plans to seek the extradition of the 13.
EU envoy Miguel Moratinos said Saturday the 13 are "free
men," who had come to Cyprus of their own accord, adding that
they are not deportees.
After the siege ended last Friday, American and Israeli bomb
disposal experts defused about 40 bombs left behind by the
Palestinians. Priests and volunteers cleaned away the
The Christian world has not protested the Palestinian
terrorists use of its church to hide from justice.
Over the last weekend, the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Syria called on Arabs to back the Saudi initiative, which
calls for Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed
before the 1967 Six-Day War in exchange for full diplomatic
relations, normalized trade and security guarantees from Arab
In a statement at the end of talks in the Egyptian resort of
Sharm el-Sheik, the leaders of the three countries said the
land-for-peace initiative, approved in March at an Arab
League meeting in Beirut, should provide a basic guideline
The statement also denounced Israeli military attacks on
Palestinians and called for international pressure to have
Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.
Reports in the press, possibly planted by Saudi publicity
agents, said that the Saudis plan an intense initiative to
stop the violence, including talks with Hamas and Islamic