- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, returning to work yesterday a week after suffering a mild stroke, ordered the military to stop Palestinians from firing rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, officials said.

Mr. Sharon’s order, which included a declaration of a no-go zone in northern Gaza, came after a weekly Cabinet meeting and high-level security consultations, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details.

Since Israel pulled out of Gaza and removed its settlements in the summer, militants have been moving closer to the Gaza-Israel fence to launch homemade rockets, bringing more Israeli towns and the city of Ashkelon into range.

Two rockets exploded south of Ashkelon in an industrial area last week, not far from an electric power station and other sensitive installations.

The centerpiece of the plan approved yesterday, officials said, is the declaration of a no-go zone in parts of northern Gaza where intruders can be shot.

Israel has not ruled out a ground operation in Gaza, although it has not sent in troops since completing its pullout in September and would be hesitant to re-enter the territory.

Instead, security officials said, Israel can track movement in the area from the air. Israeli helicopters and pilotless aircraft often are seen in the Gaza skies. Recent stormy weather has held up implementation of the plan, Israeli press reported.

At yesterday’s meeting, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Islamic Jihad was behind most of the rocket fire. A statement from the Cabinet office said Mr. Mofaz pledged to continue targeting militant leaders in air strikes.

Israel has slain eight militants in four air strikes in Gaza since a Dec. 5 suicide bombing killed five Israelis in the seaside city of Netanya.

Mr. Sharon spent most of last week resting after being rushed to the hospital. Doctors said he suffered a mild stroke that has not caused any permanent damage. Mr. Sharon’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal despite his weight, the doctors said.

The stroke, nonetheless, sparked calls for the prime minister to release his health records and set off media speculation about his weight, with estimates ranging from 258 to 313 pounds. Mr. Sharon is 5 foot 7 inches tall. The newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported yesterday that he has lost about two pounds since the stroke.

Mr. Sharon gave ministers a tongue-in-cheek warning yesterday about the dangers of eating fried foods during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, beginning at sunset. Doctors have urged Mr. Sharon to go on a diet.

“I hope you will all eat doughnuts and potato pancakes,” Mr. Sharon said, smiling and provoking laughter. “You have permission to eat them, but I recommend that you don’t overdo it.”

The stroke has turned Mr. Sharon’s health into an issue in his push to lead his new party, Kadima, Hebrew for “Forward,” into March 28 elections and retain his prime ministerial post.

Mr. Sharon’s doctors have scheduled a briefing today to disclose details of his medical records.

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