Twenty-two Israelis were killed during a Passover seder in a Netanya hotel last Wednesday. Another suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa on Sunday killed at least 13 people. Thirty-two people were woundedin a Tel Aviv restaurant Saturday night andtwo morepeople killedat a supermarket in Jerusalem Friday. This spree of bombings, targeting civilians as they celebrate oreat or shop, has interrupted any efforts to call for a cease-fire and to work on negotiating plans for peace in Israel. Atthe same time,Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has refused to speak peace, to demand a cease-fire, or to stop inciting violence in his native Arabic even when peace proposals were on the table.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon blamesArafat for the continuing violence and has besieged Arafat at his Ramallah headquarters. Sharon has said that heis willing to let Yasser Arafat leave the country, providing he does not return - effectivelysending Arafat into exile. One possible location suggested for Arafat has been Morocco, which has agreed to harbor him. Arafat has said he will not accept exile from Palestine under any circumstances, preferring to die rather than leave. In response, Ariel Sharon wants Arafat completely cut off from the rest of the world and to effect this has ordered IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz to tighten the siege around Arafat and prevent any civilians or others from reaching him. Sharon was previously embarrassed when several foreign peace activists were able to walk past the military and go into Arafat's compound. The army has been instructed to thwart all attempts, even by international media, to contact the Palestinian leader.
It is believed that a number of suspected militants and terrorists accompany Arafat in his compound, among them some ofArafat's political and security lieutenants. Arafat's inner circle is no longer untouchable and while some are hiding out with Arafat, others are held up in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service outside Ramallah. Early Tuesday morning, Israeli troops launched an attack on the headquarters with heavy machine guns and helicopters. Israel has sworn to hunt down those responsible for terrorism and one senior Israeli security source has stated that, "Most of the important activists of Ramallah are now in these compounds. They are not going to get away. We are going to arrest all of them."
Sharon has defined the current operation's goal to "wipe out terrorist infrastructures from their foundations." Israeli forces have already entered four of the eight largest Palestinian population centers in the West Bank and more are expected as 20,000 reservists are being mobilized for Operation Defensive Shield. What could complicate the current operation is the recent activity by Hezbollah along the Lebanese border. Hezbollah has often hinted that it might engage the Israelis along the border, thus opening another front in Jerusalem's ongoing battle with the Palestinians. Israel has warned Syria and Lebanon that there could be "very serious consequences" if Hezbollah forces do not quickly withdraw their buildup of troops along Israel's northern border.
President George Bush has stated that Arafat should not be treated like a terrorist, but has not made efforts to stop Sharon in Israel's most recent effort to root out the terrorists that are murdering innocent Israelis. However, Nohum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth,noted that Sharon was short on time in the international eye. "Every additional day of occupation [of Palestinian territory], every additional day of pictures of tanks opposite women and children increases the international pressure on the government."
However, Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres explained that Israeli forceswere not planning on remaining long in Palestinian territory, but wereattacking with purpose. "We will be staying weeks at the most, not months," he said. "We are not fighting a war of prestige here, we are fighting a war of existence. Our first concern is not our image but our lives."