Israel calls up reserve soldiers

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Associated Press WriterRAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Israel called up reserve soldiers Thursday, as troops returned to five West Bank towns in response to two suicide bombings that killed 26 Israelis in two days. Yasser Arafat appealed to Palestinian militias to stop attacking Israeli civilians.

In Israel, there were growing divisions over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to gradually seize Palestinian areas and occupy them as long as terror attacks continues. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, leader of the moderate Labor Party, said he strongly opposes long-term reoccupation of Palestinian areas.

The back-to-back bombings in Jerusalem prompted President Bush to put his prescription for Palestinian statehood on hold, but he remained confident Mideast peace could be achieved. Bush repeatedly has demanded Arafat do more to stop terror attacks.

Israeli military sources said one brigade -- about 1,200 soldiers -- was being called up for Israel's widening campaign, and that more troops might be drafted in the future. They would be deployed along the so-called Green Line, Israel's unmarked frontier before it captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. All suicide bombers of the past 21 months have come from the West Bank.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Arafat condemned attacks on Israeli civilians and said shootings and bombings "must be completely halted." Otherwise, he warned, the result might be "full Israeli occupation of our lands."

The statement was distributed Thursday by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, but wasn't televised, even though his aides initially said he would speak before the cameras to allow for a wider reach of his remarks.

Thursday's condemnation was relatively mild. In December, Arafat made his strongest condemnation, saying in a televised address that suicide bombings and all other "terrorist activities" against Israel must cease. He pledged to arrest militants who persisted with attacks. Thursday's statement didn't use the word terror, and Palestinians maintain they cannot carry out arrests while under Israeli siege.

Arafat said Thursday that Israel, through its military actions, is "preventing all our efforts" to end the violence. Arafat did not say how he would rein in the militias. Israel has accused him of doing nothing to stop attacks or even of encouraging them.

The Islamic militant group Hamas said it would not stop the bombings.

"If we have an effective weapon in our hands and the whole world is trying to take it off us, this kind of reaction shows it to be the most effective way," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack Tuesday on a Jerusalem bus that killed 19 Israelis, the worst in Jerusalem in six years.

Sharon, addressing an annual gathering of diaspora Jews at the three-day Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, said his visit to Tuesday's bombing scene revealed horrors beyond any the retired general had seen on the battlefield.

Terror attacks aren't new to Israel, he said, but "the difference is that this time, behind the acts of sabotage and murder, is a terrorist Palestinian Authority with the support of the international terror axis --Tehran, Damascus, Baghdad and (alleged terror mastermind Osama) Bin Laden."

A bombing Wednesday at a Jerusalem bus stop killed seven Israelis, including a 59-year-old grandmother and her 5-year-old granddaughter. Arabic television channels reported conflicting responsibility claims, and it wasn't clear who was behind the blast.

The blast occurred in a part of the city that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, and which Palestinians claim for a future state.

The bomb wrecked the bus stop and left the wide street littered with personal belongings and body parts. Rescue workers covered an overturned baby carriage with black plastic sheeting.

Yaacov Ben Yehuda, 36, a teacher who moved to Israel from San Diego, Calif., five years ago, was hitchhiking home to Ofra, a West Bank Jewish settlement about 20 miles from the intersection. He was looking for a car to stop for him and didn't see the bomber.

"When I heard the boom, I turned toward the sound," he said. "Then I realized it was a bombing. There is blood on my feet and the back of my shirt. My pants are covered with other people's blood. It is too gross to think about."

In response, Israeli forces moved into Bethlehem and the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp, declaring a curfew and taking over controlling positions in the town, the military said.

Also, troops moved into Beitunia, a suburb of Ramallah, and searched for suspects. The statement said soldiers would remain in the two locations "until the mission's goals are accomplished." Beitunia residents were ordered over loudspeakers to stay in their homes. Three armored personnel carriers, a tank and a military jeep were parked outside a five-floor building, one of three positions taken over by the Israeli army. Building residents peered out from their windows.

Israeli troops were in control of Jenin and Qalqiliya, setting up command posts in the towns and enforcing curfews, an example of the new Israeli policy. Dozens of tanks also rolled into Tulkarem, just inside the West Bank, and an adjacent refugee camp.

Palestinian hospital and security officials said a pregnant Palestinian woman, Sahar Hindi, 27, died after being shot in the chest during an exchange of gunfire in Qalqiliya. The Israeli army said the exchange was continuing and had no immediate information about a woman dying.

In the Jenin camp, troops rounded up about 2,500 boys and men between the ages of 15 and 50 on Wednesday and took them in buses to a nearby army camp for questioning. About 1,000 men were released overnight, said Mohammed Ballas, a Palestinian journalist who was among those rounded up.

Israeli helicopters and warplanes also pounded Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip, wounding 13 Palestinians.

Sharon never explained publicly how far Israel would go in the planned reoccupation of Palestinian areas -- whether troops would seize entire towns or set up new positions on the outskirts of population centers.

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