Sharon Says Israel at "Point of No Return" as Fighting Rages On
Published on Sunday, April 7, 2002 by Agence France Presse
Sharon Says Israel at "Point of No Return" as Fighting Rages On
Israel pressed ahead with its army drive through the West Bank and ignored US calls to halt, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed his campaign to stop Palestinian attacks was at "the point of no return."

Fierce fighting raged again in Nablus and Jenin as Israeli forces kept up their assault, rolling into yet another Palestinian village a day after US President George W. Bush said Israel should pull back "without delay."

A US-supplied Israeli Apache helicopter gunship fires at Palestinian houses in the West Bank City of Nablus, April 7, 2002. Fierce fighting is raging in the West Bank as Israel pushes ahead with its military offensive, undaunted by a U.S. call for a withdrawal of its armor and troops from Palestinian areas. Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
US Secretary of State Colin Powell nevertheless said he was "pleased" with the Israeli response but stressed that Bush "means now, start now."

He also said he might meet with Yasser Arafat, which the Palestinians say he must do to avoid a Palestinian boycott of his trip.

The Palestinians charged Washington was encouraging its close ally to continue the 10-day offensive, echoing skepticism over the timing of Powell's visit. Powell leaves Washington on Sunday but will not make it to Israel until Friday after stopping in five other nations first.

Sharon said Israel had given up hope that any agreement with the Palestinians would bring his nation peace and end the waves of attacks and suicide bombings which have killed scores of Israelis.

"The Palestinian Authority will not fight terrorism no matter what, and we cannot accept going back to the situation as it was before the operation began," he said ahead of a cabinet meeting, state radio reported.

"Israel is at the point of no return because Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have no intention of respecting any accord," he said.

Israeli chief-of-staff General Shaul Mofaz told the cabinet that 200 Palestinians have been killed since March 29, and 1,500 wounded, when Israel launched the offensive to end the anti-Israeli attacks, sources said.

Thirteen Israeli soldiers have also been killed.

There is no independent confirmation of the death toll because reporters and medics have been barred from almost all combat areas.

Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said 35 Palestinians were killed Saturday in Jenin. The Israeli army said it had killed 30 Palestinians in Nablus since Friday.

At least 13 Palestinians were killed Sunday, including two in the Gaza Strip. According to an AFP tally more than 1,800 people have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

Arafat remained pinned in his Ramallah headquarters while 200 armed gunmen inside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest sites, were in the sixth day of a standoff with Israeli troops.

Major-General Dan Halutz, commander of the Israeli air force, said Operation Defensive Wall, as it is called, could not be rushed. "The armed forces need time, more time," he said.

On the ground the Israeli crackdown appeared to be achieving its goal with no suicide attacks since April 1. The offensive was launched two days after a suicide bomb attack in Netanya on the Jewish Passover holiday.

Israeli radio said the death toll from that bombing rose to 27 on Sunday when Sarah Levy, an 88-year survivor of the Nazi holocaust, succumbed to her wounds.

The army says it has arrested 1,200 Palestinians, including 100 "terrorists" on a wanted list, and seized large quantities of bombs and other weapons in its campaign.

US officials said Bush made a personal phone call to Sharon on Saturday to press for quick action after saying at press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Israel should withdraw "without delay."

The Palestinian leadership said in a statement Sunday that Bush's failure to fix a firm date "encourages Sharon and gives him the green light to carry out further war crimes."

The Palestinians said the previous day that the ferocious assault on Nablus and Jenin, where the Israelis encountered heavy Palestinian resistance, amounted to a "massacre."

They said dozens of wounded lay bloodied in the streets, unable to receive help because the Israelis had blocked ambulances, and asked world leaders to intervene.

Ron Leshem, a correspondent for Israel's top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, was allowed into the Jenin refugee camp with Israeli troops on Saturday.

"Helicopter gunships fire missiles, the tanks fire shells, the machine-guns leave paths of fire and sparks," he reported. "On the ground are hundreds of bombs, a few car bombs, dozens of snipers and piles of rubble."

Army spokesman General Ron Kitrey said fighting continued in the Jenin camp on Sunday and that no orders had been given to speed up the operation, although Sharon told Bush on Saturday he would try to "expedite" the campaign.

In Nablus, tanks and helicopters continued to pound the city, where residents said many houses and some mosques were destroyed by missiles fired from Apache attack helicopters.

Tanks and troops also entered the hilltop village of Beit Rima near Ramallah on Sunday, with troops going house to house searching for militants, Palestinian security sources said.

The army blitz has unleashed fury worldwide, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets from South America to Asia to protest against Israel and the United States.

Copyright © 2002 AFP