Sharon said in a press conference today, ”You can talk all about peace, but you cannot reach peace as long as terror exists. I hope our great friend the United States understands that this is a war of survival for us… it’s our right to defend our citizens and there should be no pressure put on us not to do that.”
Sharon said he has already told President Bush that he cannot pull troops back immediately, despite Bush’s demands last week.
“We have to do this as fast as possible, but we have to finish the job,” Sharon said.
Sharon’s announcement came shortly after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least eight and injured at least 14 passengers on a crowded bus headed to Jerusalem from the northern city of Haifa.
The explosion occurred around 7:15 am during rush hour traffic, blowing the top off the bus and sending people flying. Local police chief Yaakov Borovsky said the attacker set off explosives shortly after boarding the bus.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, saying: “The operation, launched from the heart of our besieged cities, is a slap in the faces of the criminals of the Zionist war.”
Hamas identified the assailant as Ayman Abu Haija, 22, from the Jenin refugee camp, the site of intense fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.
Hamas said the suicide assailant “penetrated all Zionist military barriers and reached Haifa,” as proof that the Israeli offensive was not successful in preventing anti-Israeli suicide attacks. “Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Ramallah and Gaza will remain a nightmare for their defeated army,” the statement added.
Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush at a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin yesterday.
Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab told The Jerusalem Post that the suicide attack was a “reaction to the ongoing brutal crimes committed by Sharon and all the criminals against our people, and it is a clear message that our people will not surrender and will not give up.”
The Haifa explosion was the second suicide bombing since March 29, when Israel began “Operation Defensive Shield” in an attempt to crack down on Palestinian militants. The first bombing also occurred in Haifa on March 31, when an attacker blew himself up in a crowded restaurant, killing 15 people.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrives in Israel tomorrow, said his mission was not threatened by Sharon’s statements or the suicide bombing.
“My mission is not in the least in jeopardy,” Powell told reporters today in Spain. He said he still plans to meet with Sharon and Yasser Arafat, despite criticism of the Palestinian leader, saying he is still “the leader of the Palestinian people.”
He also said he plans to press Israel to provide Arafat with greater access to other diplomats while he is confined to his headquarters in Ramallah.
Meanwhile, the tense standoff between Israeli soldiers and nearly 200 Palestinians, many armed, holed up inside the Church of the Nativity continues. An Armenian monk was shot and wounded at the church, considered the birthplace of Jesus.
Israeli soldiers, who have surrounded the church, said the priest was shot by Palestinian gunmen stationed on rooftops. Meanwhile, several Palestinians inside the church reported that Israeli snipers fired into the Armenian wing of the church and wounded Father Mahir Arman.