KIBBUTZ NAHAL OZ – One of the major claims then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made to the Israeli public prior to implementing the country’s historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip 10 months ago was that if the Jewish state needed to re-enter the territory in response to Palestinian attacks the international community would understand and would support any Israeli action.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made similar claims regarding his proposed withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, mountainous terrain within rocket-firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the country’s international airport.
But with Israeli ground troops this week entering the Gaza Strip in response to an attack of an Israeli military station and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, countries around the world have been urging restraint and are demanding an immediate Israeli retreat.
The ground troops so far have not conducted any operation other than to enter Gaza.
Since Israel last August evacuated its Jewish communities and military installations from the territory, more than 800 rockets have been launched from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists aimed at nearby Jewish communities. The Israeli town of Sderot, located about three miles from the Gaza border, has been hit with an average of 40 rockets per week the past four weeks.
Israel has responded to the regular rocket-fire aimed at its communities largely with targeted aerial and artillery strikes at suspected missile launch sites, but the operations have failed to stop or even slow the rate of rocket attacks.
In what defense leaders here called a “stunning” and “well-orchestrated” operation, two Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday and another was kidnapped when Hamas and other Palestinian groups raided a major military station within Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip border.
Israeli defense officials maintain the abducted soldier, 19-year-old Israeli-French citizen Gilad Shalit, is being held in Khan Yunis, a large city in central Gaza.
A senior defense official told WorldNetDaily it was Israel’s failure to respond forcefully to the Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza the past 10 months that led to Sunday’s Hamas operation.
“Since August, the rockets have been regularly fired and attacks have been staged from Gaza,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “The defense establishment has been calling for a harsh response, but not much has been ordered aside from surgical strikes. It was the loss of Israeli deterrence that emboldened the terror groups to perform their daring operation this week. Deterrence must be restored.”
Olmert earlier this week ordered ground troops to enter southern Gaza to cut off the territory’s border with Egypt for fear Shalit’s captives will try to smuggle him into the Egyptian Sinai desert. The troops in Gaza have not been authorized to conduct any operation other than to remain at their positions.
The Israeli Air Forces Tuesday bombed an empty Hamas training camp and a bridge near Khan Yunis they feared Shalit’s captors could use to transport the abducted soldier.
Defense Minister Amit Peretz today authorized the next stage of the army’s foray into Gaza, accepting military leaders’ recommendations of sending troops into northern Gaza to further isolate Shalit’s kidnappers. The troops, like those already in southern Gaza, have been ordered only to enter the territory but not to conduct any anti-terror operations.
Already, the international community is demanding Israeli restraint.
The European Union urged both Israel and the Palestinians yesterday to “step back from the brink” and allow diplomacy to resolve the crisis.
“All sides need to consider their responsibilities extremely carefully,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.
“Both sides need to step back from the brink before this becomes a crisis that neither side can control,” Ferrero-Waldner warned.
In his weekly House of Commons question session, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the IDF offensive in Gaza demonstrated the importance of restarting the peace process, “which is the only way to stop events like the terrible events of the last 24 hours.”
In Paris, France’s Foreign Minister denounced the use of force by “both sides,” staying the crisis could only be solved through a political dialogue.
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he still believed it was possible to restart the stalled peace process.
In Tokyo, the government said it was reevaluating a trip by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Middle East next month, following reports of the Israeli incursion into Gaza.
Lebanese leaders slammed Olmert and demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.
While Israeli troops enter Gaza in response to attacks, Olmert is still attempting to push through his proposed Judea and Samaria withdrawal, stating the move will increase security for Israel.
“We must withdraw to defensible borders to ensure a Jewish majority and protect our security needs,” Olmert said at a speech this week.
He stated his proposed evacuation would help win international support for the Jewish state, and has said if Israel needs to conduct anti-terror operations in Judea and Samaria following a withdrawal “the world would understand.”
About 200,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s security barrier, still under construction in certain areas, cordons off nearly 95 percent of the territory from Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Olmert seeks to vacate the vast majority of Judea and Samaria – all areas that fall outside the barrier.
In a widely circulated WND article, leaders of every major Palestinian terror organization warned they will soon launch a massive violent campaign against Israel focused mainly on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
One senior terrorist said now that Olmert announced a Judea and Samaria withdrawal, terrorism against Israel must be stepped up “to prove we are chasing out the Israelis like we did in Gaza.”
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