At least five Palestinians were killed Thursday as Israeli troops rolled into several West Bank refugee camps. A force of 80 tanks and armored vehicles surrounded the Tulkarem and Nur Shams refugee camps and exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen.
A leader of the militant group Islamic Holy War, Mohammed Anani, was killed as he fired on soldiers approaching his home in the West Bank village of Siris, according to witnesses.
Israeli warplanes also fired missiles at the Palestinian government headquarters in Bethlehem and the police headquarters in Gaza City. Eight people were reported wounded.
Also Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a supermarket at the entrance to a West Bank Jewish settlement, wounding four bystanders.
Another Palestinian man carrying a bomb in a backpack was overpowered by patrons of the fashionable Jerusalem cafe he was walking into. The bomb was disarmed and the man arrested.
The rising death toll has led some Israelis and allies to reconsider Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s strategy and leadership.
On Tuesday, Sharon said his aim was to “increase the number of losses on the other side. Only after they’ve been battered will we be able to conduct talks.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized that goal before a Congressional committee in Washington Wednesday.
“Prime Minister Sharon has to take a hard look at his policies to see whether they will work,” Powell said. “If you declare war against the Palestinians thinking that you can solve the problem by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don’t know that that leads us anywhere.”
Powell said policies in play from both sides would only lead to greater violence.
“It’s a tragic situation,” he said.
Sharon’s government responded to Powell’s criticism with a statement saying that the war was imposed on Israel by the Palestinian Authority.
“Israel is only fighting back against the terrorist organization in the context of its right to self-defense,” the statement said. “The one who initiated this war has the power to stop it, but he continues to prefer the war of terrorism.”
Disapprobation of Sharon’s policies has also come from the Israeli press.
“The house is on fire, and the government is clueless. What do you want us to do, the best of its ministers ask, shrugging their shoulders and spreading their hands in a gesture of helplessness,” a veteran commentator for Yediot Ahronot daily wrote. “You bunch of impotent fools, we are tired of you. Pack your bags, gather up your papers, return the keys and leave the government.”
The press also reported that during a four-hour senior minister’s meeting Foreign Minister Shimon Peres declared, “Had I known that the government would find itself in this current reality in the confrontation with the Palestinians, I would not have joined Sharon’s unity government.”
Several politicians have threatened to leave Sharon’s coalition, which would force new elections. Recent polls suggest that Benjamin Netanyahu, a far-right leader of the Likud Party who was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, would probably replace Sharon.
Netanyahu has said that if he returns to office, he would bring down the Arafat administration, build a wall between Israel and the Palestinians and remove all weapons from the Palestinian territories.