- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Israel invaded Palestinian land for the first time since the Oslo peace accords of 1993 yesterday and then retreated following a rare public rebuke from the United States.
The hasty withdrawal came just hours after a top Israeli general had threatened to occupy a captured square-mile chunk of the Gaza Strip indefinitely.
"We will remain in these places for as long as it takes — days, weeks, months," Brig. Gen. Yair Naveh, commander of the armys Gaza brigade, told reporters. He said the aim was to put Israeli towns out of Palestinian mortar range.
The Israeli invasion, in retaliation for a Palestinian mortar attack deep inside Israel, sparked criticism from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called the response excessive.
"The hostilities last night in Gaza were precipitated by the provocative Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel," Mr. Powell said in a statement read by his spokesman.
"The Israeli response was excessive and disproportionate. We call upon both sides to respect the agreements theyve signed.
"For the Palestinians, this includes implementing their commitment to renounce terrorism and violence, to exercise control over all elements of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, and to discipline violators.
"For the Israelis, this includes respecting their commitment to withdraw from Gaza according to the terms of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. There can be no military solution to this conflict."
Mr. Powell said the United States was "continuing to work" with both sides and "remains prepared to assist the parties in taking steps to reduce the violence, seeking ways to restore trust and confidence, and assisting them in resolving their differences through negotiations."
Israel denied it had buckled under U.S. pressure.
An Israeli diplomat said they had made the decision to withdraw and had told the United States of its plans hours before Mr. Powells statement was read.
"We had acted in a manner to enable our people to observe if anyone was shooting mortars from some rustic buildings and some woods," said the diplomat at the Israeli Embassy, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"This was the mission, and it had been accomplished. Our soldiers are on the way out and will be out tonight.
"All these events we had discussed in conversations with the State Department and we an-nounced to them by noon forty-five Israel time that our forces will be out tonight," the diplomat said.
Israel moved its forces into Palestinian-controlled portions of Gaza for the first time since they were handed over under the Oslo peace process that began in 1993.
Yesterdays occupation of part of Gaza came during a week of escalating battles, including an Israeli attack on Syrian radar on Sunday.
The air strike on the Syrian post in Lebanon came in response to attacks by Hezbollah guerrillas, who killed an Israeli soldier.
Yesterday, Syria urged all Arab governments to cut ties with Israel in response to the air raid that killed three Syrian soldiers.
But there was no indication that Egypt and Jordan would follow Syrias call and break diplomatic ties to the Jewish state.
Israel's public announcement that it was retreating from the Palestinian area it had captured in a broad assault by air, land and sea, came after Mr. Powells statement was read.
The attack targeted bases of Palestinian security forces in Gaza. The siege left one person dead and 36 injured.
Israel blames Palestinian security forces for either joining in, or allowing, attacks on Israeli troops, settlements and civilians inside Israel.
The military wing of the militant Islamic group Hamas claimed credit for the mortar attack on Sderot. The offensive occurred on vacant land near a ranch owned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Mr. Sharon decided that both attacks — the Sunday strike from Lebanon and yesterdays mortar attack on Sderot crossed Israels "red lines," which cannot be allowed to go without a major response.
A State Department official denied that any "pressure" was applied on Israel to withdraw.
"I would not call the public statement pressure," the official said.
The escalating violence since Sept. 29, when the peace process collapsed, has raised fears that Israel would take back some of the land it has ceded to the Palestinians.
The Israeli diplomat said: "There have been 25 to 30 incidents a day recently — shooting, putting bombs."
The Bush administration had taken a less involved approach toward Middle East peace efforts than the Clinton administration, which saw its intense negotiation efforts collapse after failure to reach final accords at Camp David last summer.
Mr. Bush had also seemed to take a pro-Israel tack after he recently welcomed Mr. Sharon to the White House while turning a cold shoulder to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat once the most frequent foreign guest at the Clinton White House.
A senior State Department official said yesterday, "We welcome the withdrawal from Gaza.
"We think Israel should be careful to avoid overreacting because it might undo agreements that have already been made, and we want the Palestinians to abide by agreements they have already made.
"Israelis are overreacting but reacting on provocations from Hezbollah and mortar attacks. But to some extent Israelis control the level of escalation and therefore they need to exercise great care."

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