Israel’s newest incursions are part of a response to a Tel Aviv bus bombing last week that killed six people. Israel subsequently raided and demolished most of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters last week in an effort to isolate Arafat and arrest suspected militants hiding inside. The Palestinian leader and some 200 aides remained in a few rooms in the embattled compound, much of which has been destroyed by Israeli forces.
Despite growing international criticism, Israeli troops and tanks moved into Gaza City Tuesday, destroying 13 workshops where the army believed crude weapons and rockets were being made. According to media reports, Palestinian hospital sources said at least six civilians and three militants were killed in the ensuing gunfights and more than 20 people were injured.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had warned Monday that he would seek to retaliate against the Islamic group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv bus bombing. Gaza City is widely seen as the center of operations for Hamas, which has taken responsibility for a wave of suicide bombing attacks on Israeli targets over the past two years.
As part of Tuesday’s raid, Israeli soldiers blew up the house of a Hamas member, Mohammad Farhat, who had allegedly killed five people in a Jewish settlement in March before being fatally shot.
International concern over the siege prompted an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council Monday and a subsequent resolution demanding that Israel stop its raid on Arafat’s compound. The resolution also calls on the Palestinian Authority to see that those responsible for past suicide bombing attacks on Israel are brought to justice.
According to news reports, the Security Council also demanded the “expeditious withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian cities towards the return to the positions held prior to September 2000.”
The U.S., which like other permanent Security Council measures holds the power to veto proposed resolutions, abstained from the vote, effectively letting the measure pass. On Monday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer issued unusually strong criticism of Israel’s siege on Arafat’s compound, saying President Bush thought Israel was harming the cause for peace among the Palestinians.
In a statement Tuesday, Arafat said he welcomed the U.N. resolution and urged world leaders to put pressure on Israel to comply with it. For his part, Arafat said, “the Palestinian Authority is committed to the decision with all its items, and it calls on the international community to compel Israel to implement the withdrawal and end the siege.”
Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Prime Minster Sharon, said Tuesday that he did not expect the Palestinian Authority to live up to its obligations under the new resolution leading him to doubt whether Israel would be able to comply either.
“If the resolution is fulfilled to the letter — in other words, if the Palestinian Authority suddenly, by a miracle, takes action against terrorists and arrests them — the reason for our being where we are today would be gone so we could comply,” Gissin told Reuters.