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Israeli Forces Poised to Enter Gaza Strip


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today sternly warned Palestinian militants to stop their attacks on Israeli targets. He spoke as thousands of Israeli troops are massed along the Gaza border. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports recent violence on both sides is threatening the pullout of Israeli settlers from Gaza scheduled to begin next month.


Sharon today told the Cabinet he has ordered the army to do whatever is needed to stop the Palestinian rocket and mortar fire. Sharon said the army is authorized to act with no restraints. Over the past few days more than a hundred Qassams and mortars have been fired at southern Israel and at Jewish settlements in Gaza. At the same time Israel would prefer that the Palestinian police confront the Hamas gunmen and stop the rocket and mortar fire. Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas today told reporters he is determined to stop it and will do his utmost. Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat.

Mr. SAEB EREKAT (Palestinian Cabinet Minister): We are exerting maximum efforts. We have deployed our forces throughout the border. There were some clashes between us and some Palestinian factions. Some Palestinians were killed, more than 20 wounded. We don't want any Israeli incursion or continuation of the military escalation or assassinations to undermine these efforts.

Mr. RAANAN GISSIN (Israeli Spokesman): We've heard that before, OK?

GRADSTEIN: Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin is skeptical that Abbas, who he calls by his nickname Abu Mazen, really intends to confront Hamas.

Mr. DECEEN: We are still giving them another opportunity or, if you want, a last chance to really make good on all their pledges and promises and commitments, which up to now they've done nothing. And that has only resulted in casualties among the Israelis.

GRADSTEIN: In the past week six Israelis died in Palestinian attacks, five in a suicide bombing in Netanya and a 22-year-old woman in a Qassam rocket attack. Two Jewish settlers were seriously wounded in a Qassam attack today.

Israel has renewed its policy of what it calls targeted killings and Palestinians call assassinations, killing eight Hamas gunmen in the past three days. Israel fired missiles at a car in northern Gaza today, witnesses said, near an area where militants fire rockets and mortars. Two men in the car escaped, and a bystander was seriously wounded. Palestinian rescue workers said an Israeli shell seriously wounded a 16-year-old Palestinian. An army spokesman said soldiers fired on a group of men who were launching mortars. Soldiers also shot and killed an armed Palestinian who tried to infiltrate another Gaza settlement.

Analysts on both sides say the violence could disrupt Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza, which begins in less than a month. Many settler supporters continue to try to stop the pullout. They have planned a mass march to Gaza beginning tomorrow and say they will go ahead despite a police ban.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in the region later this week to try to convince both sides to go back to the cease-fire. Israeli analysts say Sharon may put off any incursion into Gaza until after she leaves. Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.