Reports say Israel decided to postpone Gaza operation

Saturday, May 11, 2002

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Gaza Strip residents hoarded food and thronged bakeries Friday, while Palestinian gunmen patrolled streets and blocked camp entrances with mounds of rubble ahead of an anticipated Israeli military strike.

Even as Israeli tanks massed on the borders of Gaza, Israeli TV's Channel 2 reported that Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had decided to postpone the operation because of leaks about the army's plans to strike Gaza in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed 15 Israelis this week.

Ben-Eliezer's adviser, Yarden Vatikai, would not confirm or deny the report.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, replying to a question about a possible incursion into Gaza, accused Israel of committing crimes against Palestinians. "Our people are steadfast and will continue with all their power to defend our holy cities, Christian and Muslim places," he said at his West Bank headquarters.

Speaking in Rome, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the aim of any military operation in Gaza would be "to reach points where we have had centers of terror in a very careful and measured way."

Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin seemed unconcerned as he was showered with kisses from well-wishers at his neighborhood mosque in Gaza City on Friday.

"I am not afraid, because I only fear God," the 70-year-old Yassin told The Associated Press.

Gaza, a narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean, was captured by Israel from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel handed most of Gaza, and parts of the West Bank, to Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1994.

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