- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, home yesterday after an aborted visit to Washington, won unanimous approval from his security Cabinet for military operations against Palestinian terrorist targets in response to Tuesday's suicide bombing outside Tel Aviv.
Mr. Sharon walked off the plane returning him from a jettisoned visit with President Bush and into a three-hour emergency session of his closest advisers.
A government statement gave no details of what military operations had been approved.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sought to blunt Israeli retribution for the attack that killed 15 and wounded 60 by going on television and condemning attacks against Israeli civilians.
He announced in Arabic that he had given "orders and directions to all the Palestinian security forces to confront and prevent all terror attacks against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian side or parties."
Such an announcement has long been demanded by Israel and the United States.
The militant Islamic group Hamas yesterday vowed to continue attacking Israel after taking responsibility for Tuesday's attack in a crowded pool hall in an industrial suburb south of Tel Aviv.
Mr. Bush, whose meeting with Mr. Sharon on Tuesday was interrupted with word of the bombing, said in Washington yesterday that Israel had a right to defend itself.
But he praised Mr. Arafat's statement as an "incredibly positive sign," and he urged the Jewish state to weigh the consequences of its response.
"Israel is a nation that is a sovereign nation, but whatever response Israel decides to take, my hope, of course, is that the prime minister keeps his vision of peace in mind," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office while meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
A source in the prime minister's office told Reuters news agency that military action was "a given" and could begin before daybreak.
Even as attacks were being prepared, potentially against terrorist nests in the Gaza Strip, there were indications that a 36-day standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was ending.
A Palestinian inside the church said negotiators told 26 Palestinians there to be ready to leave.
Under the plan, all but 13 suspected Palestinian militants in the embattled church would be leaving on Thursday, said Israeli army Capt. Jacob Dallal.
The group of 26 suspected gunmen was to leave the church first, to be transported to Gaza and about 80 civilians inside the church would be freed, said Israeli army Capt. Jacob Dallal. The suspected militants, slated for deportation, would be left behind in the church for now.
Signaling that the end of the siege was near, the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem, Mohammed Madani, left the church for the first time since the standoff began. He was accompanied by two priests as he ducked through the low-slung main door of the fourth-century church.
The fate of the13 militia members, described by Israel as most-wanted terrorists, remained unresolved last night as Italy again refused to accept them in exile and the United States searched in vain for another country to hold them.
Tuesday's bombing in the town of Rishon Letzion rattled Israelis, who were starting to regain their confidence after three terror-free weeks.
Instead, Israelis and Palestinians braced themselves for a potentially fierce retaliation.
Israeli government officials indicated yesterday that Mr. Sharon was considering taking broad military action and expelling Mr. Arafat from the region.
He again condemned the Palestinian leader as "guilty" of encouraging and funding terrorist attacks against Israel.
"He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt it and kill him first," Mr. Sharon told reporters a day earlier as he prepared to leave Washington. "Israel will continue to uproot the terror infrastructure."
Israeli officials traveling with Mr. Sharon told reporters yesterday that Washington agreed with their position that Mr. Arafat is incapable of making peace.
When asked for confirmation yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that there had been a discussion of the need to "see reform within the Palestinian Authority."
He also stressed that a political solution is the only way beyond the violence.
"Every time one of these events happen, it takes us off a course that we were on for a while, but I think it's a course that, ultimately, we have to get back to," he said.
"No matter how many military operations one conducts or how many suicide bombs are delivered, at the end of the day, we have to find a political solution," Mr. Powell said.
He said that CIA Director George Tenet, the author of an earlier initiative to end 19 months of fighting, probably would arrive in the Middle East next week.
Israel, meanwhile, suffered another bombing attempt yesterday, near the northern city of Haifa.
The explosives apparently went off prematurely, injuring the attacker, who was taken to an Israeli hospital.
Unlike in Mr. Arafat's last condemnation of terror, which was delivered as a written statement after considerable pressure from the United States, yesterday's announcement was delivered quickly and more forcefully.
It was aired as nearly a dozen funerals were conducted in the Tel Aviv area, in keeping with the Jewish tradition of a speedy burial.
Israeli officials indicated last night that words will not be enough to halt any military action that the Cabinet finds necessary.
"More words are not enough," said one Israeli official. "Let's see what kind of action he is willing to take."
Bill Sammon contributed to this report from Washington.



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