- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Israel sent tanks into the Gaza Strip yesterday and warned that it would send guerrillas to hunt down the Palestinian gunmen firing on Israeli troops from behind mobs of stone-throwing youths.

The fighting intensified as Prime Minister Ehud Barak survived the threat of a vote of no-confidence in Israel's parliament as the religious Shas Party vowed to back his government for another month due to the crisis with the Palestinians.

As Israel's bloody monthlong fight with the Palestinians escalates, analysts fear it could spiral into war with Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, Lebanon, Syria and the rest of the Arab world a fight that Israel likely would win on the ground but lose in world opinion.

Israel's new, aggressive policy was heralded by helicopter attacks on Fatah offices in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Ramallah and on a building used by Fatah gunmen of the Force 17 militia in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip.

Marwan Barghouthi, a senior Fatah leader in the West Bank, called the helicopter attacks a "dangerous escalation."

Fatah security forces have either done nothing to quell a month of violence or actively assisted the new intifada, or uprising, against Israeli control over the Palestinian territories.

About 100 Palestinians began rioting around midnight yesterday, throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli troops near Khan Yunis.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh warned that Israeli troops would no longer only respond to Palestinian gunfire but would take the initiative.

"Now we are saying that instead of following a method which is somewhat mechanical, we will use a method which uses our advantages … small units, units well-trained in guerrilla warfare," Mr. Sneh told Israel army radio.

In 33 days of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, 143 persons, most of them Palestinians, have been killed.

A gunman attacked Israeli guards at a social-service center in East Jerusalem yesterday, killing one and severely wounding the another. It was the first time during the current conflict that an Israeli was killed in Jerusalem. A previously unknown group calling itself the "Saladin Brigades" claimed responsibility.

The shooting followed another killing on Jerusalem's southern fringe. Palestinians found the body of an Israeli who had been missing for two days from Gilo, a Jewish neighborhood that has come under frequent gunfire from the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Jalla.

Heavy gunbattles also led Israel to seal of the ancient city of Jericho after bullets smashed into the Oasis Casino where Israelis used to gamble in peaceful times.

In the Knesset, Israel's parliament, the Shas support enabled Mr. Barak to leave hawkish Likud party leader Ariel Sharon out of his government and avoid giving him a veto over the peace process.

Mr. Barak controls only 30 seats in the 120-member parliament. He has been courting Mr. Sharon, whose visit to a disputed Jerusalem shrine last month has been cited by the Palestinians as the trigger for the current violence.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, made a short trip to Egypt yesterday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak, a key Mideast mediator, at the resort of Sharm el Sheik. He said the top PLO decision-making body would convene Nov. 15, the anniversary of a symbolic 1988 proclamation of Palestinian independence, but was evasive when asked whether he would declare statehood on that day.

Mr. Arafat said Sunday that the violence would continue until Palestinians wrest control over the al Aqsa mosque, built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, from Israel.

Israel's military power remains greater than the surrounding ring of Arab states, even taking into account the wild cards of Iraq, Iran and Libya, which may be able to deliver chemical weapons.

Even if moderate Arab leaders want to avoid war, "things could change as the Arab world becomes mobilized," said Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

"The risk is that a series of catastrophic Palestinian deaths or a separation plan like Israel is contemplating would have results that are so devastating to the Palestinians that [Arab] governments could no longer stand by despite the military risk and have to do something."

Neither Israel nor the Arab leaders want to prove Israel's supremacy on the battlefield. It would cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage and set back peace and economic development decades.

An Arab-Israeli war would also unleash anti-American and anti-Western forces among 1 billion Muslims in places such as Indonesia where anti-Americanism is already growing and possibly set off an oil embargo that could spark a recession worldwide.

However, militant, extremist, nationalist and fundamentalist forces in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria are banging the drum for a wider conflict.

On Israel's northern border, Israel faces a dilemma: it needs to build a security fence to block attacks ranging from rock-throwing to snipers to the kidnapping of three of its soldiers by Hezbollah fighters that took place last month.

But it cannot construct a fence without exposing its workers and soldiers to attack.

If a front opens in Lebanon it could bring Syria into the fighting since Damascus has 35,000 troops in Lebanon and controls the Hezbollah guerrillas there.

Iraq is another possible war front. It has moved from 30,000 to 50,000 troops three to five divisions west toward the borders with Syria and Jordan.

"I assume there will be some event that makes it impossible for Israel to act with restraint any more and we could see an opening of a second front," said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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