- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

IGAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel briefly re-entered the Gaza Strip yesterday despite U.S. criticism and leveled a Palestinian police station on territory granted to Yasser Arafats government in peace agreements.

The raid in southern Gaza came 10 hours after Israel withdrew troops from a square-mile area they had seized Tuesday morning at the opposite end of the strip.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under criticism that he had bowed to pressure from the United States, which had denounced Tuesday´s land takeover.

Mr. Sharon´s office announced that the prime minister had a "friendly and very good" conversation with President Bush last night in which he "emphasized Israel´s commitment to peace, but stated that our utmost commitment is to the security of our citizens."

The statement said Mr. Bush had promised the United States would continue doing "its utmost" to influence the Palestinian Authority to halt the violence and that the leaders had "agreed to remain in ongoing and close contact."

Israel said its actions yesterday were a response to Palestinian mortar and shooting attacks against Israeli civilians. The Israel reprisal and Tuesday´s land seizure outraged Palestinians.

Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinians would respond with "popular resistance" to Israel´s incursions.

Palestinian fire continued despite the Israeli retaliation.

Soon after Israeli troops pulled out of the northern pocket, six mortars hit near the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim in Gaza. After nightfall yesterday, five mortar shells landed at Nir Am, an Israeli village just outside the Gaza border fence, as well as near the Gaza settlement Kfar Darom, the military said.

No injuries were reported. Israeli tanks fired shells at a police post in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, Palestinians said.

Fierce exchanges of fire took place near Jerusalem, between the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla and Israeli positions near the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in disputed East Jerusalem.

In yesterday´s incursion, a tank and two bulldozers razed a Palestinian police station and farmland near Gaza International Airport in the southern Gaza Strip, then returned to Israeli-controlled territory.

The army said shots had been fired from the position at workers at the nearby Israeli-Egyptian border fence. No one was injured in the shooting.

During its land seizure in northern Gaza, Israeli troops razed six Palestinian police stations and destroyed orange groves and farmland outside the town of Beit Hanoun. Hassan Shabat, returning to his farm, said he lost 5,000 chickens, the livelihood of a family of 17.

Traces of the incursion were everywhere tracks of battle tanks, piles of concrete rubble, dozens of weary and frustrated Palestinians shifting through the ruins. Before its troops entered early Tuesday, Israel fired a rocket barrage across the Gaza Strip, killing one Palestinian policeman.

Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, whose communities frequently have been targeted by Palestinian mortars, complained that Mr. Sharon has not lived up to his promise to restore security.

Yossi Yered, whose infant son was injured in a mortar attack on a Gaza settlement earlier this month, said troops should not have withdrawn from the Palestinian area.

"Where is the feeling of security? " asked Mr. Yered. "They talk, talk, talk and when finally they do something, they back down with their tail between their legs."

Military commentators called the army´s incursion a resounding failure because it did not prevent more mortar fire and deprived Israel of a major option.

"It [the takeover of Palestinian positions] wasn´t planned to be just 24 hours, despite all that has been said, " said Roni Daniel, the military correspondent for Israel Channel 2 TV.

"The Palestinians know that there is no longer an option of going in and occupying areas they control. A card has been lost."

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