Israel revives militants assassination policy
JERUSALEM - Israel has resumed an assassination policy against Islamic Jihad
militants, officials said on Wednesday, underscoring the deterioration of a
ceasefire with Palestinians.
Word that the assassination policy had been dusted off came with Israeli confirmation of a failed missile strike on Tuesday when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were holding a frosty meeting.
"There was an attempt in Gaza to intercept an (Islamic Jihad) activist yesterday. It was unsuccessful," Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said on Army Radio.
"An opportunity presented itself. Any means to neutralize the organization are relevant and possible."
Islamic Jihad has resumed mortar bomb and rocket salvoes against Jewish settlements in Gaza in what it calls retaliation for continued Israeli raids to capture wanted militants.
Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, warned of "terrible consequences" if Israel carried out assassinations.
"This decision is meant to escalate violence against our people. The calm would thereby end. We will not be dictated to by Israel," he told Reuters in Gaza.
At the Jerusalem meeting, Sharon complained to Abbas that the moderate Palestinian leader was doing little to rein in gunmen from whom he wrung a pledge of "calm" after he won election in January on a platform of non-violence and peace negotiations.
"The attempt yesterday to kill an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza signaled the resumption of the targeted killing policy," an Israeli security source told Reuters.
"The Palestinian Authority is doing nothing, so the only way to stop this is for us to launch a big operation of targeted killings and arrests of Islamic Jihad operatives."
Israeli troops rounded up 52 suspected Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank hours before the summit and another 11 were picked up early on Wednesday, the army said.
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, residents pointed to a damaged building and a crater with metal fragments they said came from an Israeli missile launched from an aircraft.
Israeli air force drones have been hovering at low altitude over Gaza since Monday evening in an indication of preparedness for renewed lightning strikes on militants.
Other militant groups including the most powerful, Hamas, have generally respected the truce pact. The level of violence is much lower than during the Palestinian revolt launched in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in 2000.
However, Abbas has struggled to reform Palestinian security services and subdue a plethora of armed factions.
In a sign of the disorder, talks on Wednesday between his Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie and local dignitaries in Nablus were marred by militants firing in the air and setting off a small bomb outside the building where they met. Qurie was not harmed.
Sharon and Abbas agreed under U.S. pressure to cooperate for as smooth as possible an evacuation of 8,500 settlers from Gaza and a few hundred among 230,000 in the West Bank set for August.
However, Palestinian officials said the meeting atmosphere was tense and their expectations were not met.
They said Sharon brushed aside requests from Abbas for gestures to relieve burdens of occupation, including open borders for Gaza, further releases of jailed Palestinians and the removal of a network of roadblocks in the West Bank.
Abbas says such gestures would help him isolate militants.
However, Sharon stuck to his position that Abbas act first to disarm militants and ruled out diplomatic progress otherwise.
Washington counts on what would be Israel's first uprooting of settlements on
land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to enable "road map" negotiations
aimed at a Palestinian state.