Israel will continue to target attackers, Netanyahu tells Blair

Israel will continue to attack the groups that fire rockets on her citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's statement Monday morning during a meeting with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair came after Israeli airstrikes targeted what the Israel Defense Forces described as “launching squads” in two locations in the northern Gaza Strip. Two Palestinian men were killed in the strikes. Hamas' military wing claimed one as a fighter and Islamic Jihad claimed the other as a fighter in its militia, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. At least two others were reported injured.

The IDF said the attacks were in response to mortar shell fire at a routine IDF patrol on the border with northern Gaza, near the Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am.

“We've got Hamas, supported by Iran, firing rockets at us. They’ve fired again. We're not going to let anyone arm themselves and fire rockets on us and think that they can do this with impunity,” Netanyahu said. “They're not going to get away with it. We attacked them before, we attacked them after and we're going to prevent them from arming themselves. This is our policy.”

Also Monday, five Kassam rockets were fired at the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, with no injuries or damage reported, according to Ynet.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 500 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit Israel, including over 50 during October alone, according to the IDF.

IDF official: Nuclear Iran may curb Israeli border wars

A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran’s guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday.

The Jewish state sees the makings of a mortal threat in Iran’s uranium enrichment and missile programs, and has lobbied world powers to roll them back through sanctions while hinting it could resort to pre-emptive military strikes.

Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces, echoed Israeli government leaders who argue that Iran, which denies wrongdoing but rejects international censure over its secretive projects, could create a “global nuclear jungle” and fuel arms races in an already volatile Middle East.

Eshel made clear that Israel – widely reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal – worries that Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.

“They will be more aggressive. They will dare to do things that right now they would not dare to do,” he said in a briefing to foreign journalists and diplomats.

“So this is going to create a dramatic change in Israel’s strategic posture, because if we are forced to do things in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella , it might be different.”

Eshel, who spoke at the conservative Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs think-tank, quoted an unnamed Indian officer who, he said, had described the Asian power’s friction with nuclear-armed rival and neighbour Pakistan in terms of self-restraint.

“When the other side has a nuclear capability and are willing to use it, you think twice,” Eshel said. “You are more restrained because you don’t want to get into that ball game.”

Israel waged offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2008-2009, coming under short-range rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are supported by Iran.

Eshel said there are now some 100,000 rockets and missiles that could be fired at Israel by the guerrillas, Iran and its ally Syria.

Despite seeing its resources strained by a 10-month-old popular uprising, Syria’s government has invested $2 billion in air defences over the last two years, and more on counter-measures against any ground invasion, Eshel said, linking both efforts to Syrian wariness of Israel.

He declined to be drawn on whether Israel might try to attack Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities alone – or, conversely, whether it could decide to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as an inevitability to be contained through superior firepower and fortifications.

Those decisions, Eshel said, were up to the government and the armed forces would provide it with a “tool box” of options.

“We have the ability to hit very, very hard, any adversary,” said Eshel, a former senior air force officer and fighter pilot. But he cautioned against expecting any decisive “knock-out” blow against Israel’s enemies.

Writing by Dan Williams

Israel, Gaza trade rocket attacks

An Israeli airstrike retaliating to a rocket fired at Israel hit a target in northern Gaza, killing one Palestinian.

Early Monday morning, Israel’s Air Force struck what Gaza sources are calling a naval police post in Gaza City. Along with the Palestinian killed, four others were injured in the strike, according to reports.

The Kassam rocket fired at southern Israel from Gaza the previous night landed in an open area, causing no casualties or damage, according to reports. The Color Red missile alert system was sounded in Sderot and the surrounding areas.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

Schools in southern Israel reopen

Schools reopened in southern Israeli communities after having been closed for three days due to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Children returned to school Wednesday. More than 45 rockets and mortars had fallen on southern Israel in the previous three days.

Many of the schools do not have areas fortified against rocket attacks to protect the students and staff. The Home Front Command announced Tuesday during a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee that all schools within about 15 miles of the Gaza border will have protected spaces by the start of next school year.

Israel, Gaza militants agree to halt fire

Israel and Islamic Jihad militants agreed to halt fire on Friday after days of deadly cross border violence, a Palestinian official said.

Eight Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, were killed since a truce was called on Monday, raising to 26 the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes in the past week.

An Israeli man has also been killed in rocket attacks launched by Gaza militants since the weekend.

The Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel and the Islamic Jihad group both told Cairo they would abide by the Egyptian and United Nations mediated truce announced on Monday.

A statement issued overnight by Taher al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said his administration held talks with Egypt and the United Nations to press Israel to stop attacks and urged factions to stop rocket fire into Israel.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said no rockets had been fired from Gaza since Thursday.

The surge of violence began on Aug. 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from Gaza via Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jon Hemming

Israel moves to ease strains with Egypt

Israel offered on Thursday to investigate jointly with Egypt the killing of five Egyptian security personnel during an Israeli operation against cross-border raiders a week ago, violence that has strained relations with Cairo’s new rulers.

“Israel is ready to hold a joint investigation with the Egyptians into the difficult event,” a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted his national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, as saying.

Amidror said the terms of such a probe “would be set by the armies of both sides”, going a step beyond Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s earlier pledge to hold an investigation and share its findings with Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

While Israel moved to ease tensions with Egypt, it mounted further attacks against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, where more than 20 rockets have been launched at southern Israel since Wednesday despite a truce announced on Monday.

Five Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip, have been killed in the latest bloodshed.

The surge of violence began on Aug. 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from the Gaza Strip via Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire. The incident triggered the most serious diplomatic row with Egypt since a popular revolt overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February.

The violence between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip threatens to unravel the shaky truce mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry, in a written statement, expressed his “deep concern” and called on all sides “to immediately take steps to prevent any further escalation”.

Taher al-Nono, a Hamas spokesman, said any “understanding for calm must be mutual and we will not accept that Israel continues its killing of our people”.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Gaza rocket lands in Egypt as border tension simmers

A woman was injured by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip into the Egyptian town of Rafah on Wednesday, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported, as tension simmered in the region after a spate of cross-border violence.

The woman was taken to hospital with light injuries, said a security source in the area.

Another source said it was the first time a rocket from Gaza had landed on a residential area and not in the desert, which was “raising concern among the security forces here”.

Egyptian security forces were searching the desert frontier with Gaza and Israel for militants who may be behind the killing of eight Israelis on Thursday along a road north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Egyptian officials said.

Five Egyptian border guards were killed last week as Israeli forces repelled the gunmen, causing the worst crisis in Egypt’s relations with Israel since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Israel said the militants had travelled from Gaza through the Egyptian Sinai, and accused Cairo of losing its grip on security in the border region, a charge that Egypt denied.

Israeli forces launched air strikes on Gaza shortly after the attacks north of Eilat. Israel said the leader of the faction responsible for the attacks was killed in the strikes.

Gaza militants responded by firing rockets into southern Israel and some rockets also landed in Egypt. Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza agreed a ceasefire on Monday but it has failed to stop the violence.

Egyptian General Mohsen Fangary of the ruling army council was due to meet Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Wednesday and they were likely to discuss the events in Sinai and relations with Israel, a cabinet source said.

Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer

Rockets pound Israel as air force strikes back in Gaza

A day after terrorist attacks killed 8 Israelis and wounded more than 20, Israeli airstrikes continued to pound targets in Gaza as rockets fell on Israel.

Sixteen rockets were reported fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Friday. One person was seriously injured after a Grad rocket landed in a yeshiva courtyard in the Israeli city of Ashdod, and five others were treated for moderate injuries or shock.

In northern Lachish an empty building sustained light damage after being struck by two rockets, and the Eshkol Regional Council was also struck, with no damage or injuries reported.

A volley of 10 rockets early Friday morning all landed harmlessly in unpopulated areas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force continued to retaliate for the previous days attacks. On Friday Israeli planes carried out airstrikes throughout Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reported that seven Hamas security installations were attacked in Friday morning.

Also Friday, Haaretz reported that a man believed to have been a member of the group that carried out the Thursday attacks killed himself and wounded several Egyptian soldiers in a suicide bombing on the Israeli-Egypt border.

Gaza Terrorists Target Americans

Any doubts about the close link between the war on terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have gone the way of a U.S. jeep loaded with diplomats on a dusty Gaza highway.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday’s roadside bombing, which killed three American security agents and wounded a junior official from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. But it had all the hallmarks of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli vehicles, and it set a new precedent for Palestinian violence.

President Bush blamed the Palestinian Authority for not cracking down on terrorist groups, despite numerous pledges to do so.

"Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms," Bush said in a written statement Wednesday. Their failure to do so, he said, "continues to cost lives."

An unwillingness to reform P.A. security forces and dismantle terrorist groups "constitutes the greatest obstacle to achieving the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood," Bush said, blaming P.A. President Yasser Arafat for hindering reforms.

The dead Americans were identified as John Branchizio, 37, of Texas; Mark Parson, 31, of New York; and John Martin Linde, 30, of Missouri. The three were on contract to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv through the defense contracting company Dyncorp, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said.

U.S. officials expressed outrage at the bombing.

In a phone call with P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Karia, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Palestinians could not move toward statehood "without eliminating violence and terrorism."

FBI investigators are being dispatched to the region, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer told reporters in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army sent tanks and armored vehicles, under cover of a helicopter gunship, to help the Americans evacuate the wounded man and the bodies of the victims.

Embassy officials who arrived on the scene to document the wreckage had barely managed to pull out their cameras when they were attacked by stone-throwing youths from the nearby Jabalya refugee camp. The Americans beat a hasty retreat as Palestinian police fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

Kurtzer’s cultural attaché was in the convoy, which was on its way to meet with Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships to U.S. universities.

"It remains to be seen" if the program will be suspended in Palestinian areas, Kurtzer said.

According to Palestinian sources, Fulbright alumni in Gaza had been instructed not talk to the press as a probe began. That was an indication that authorities were covering all angles of an ambush that clearly targeted U.S. diplomats, a first for this round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat called the bombing an "ugly crime" and pledged to find the culprits. So did Karia.

Analysts did not expect the attack to affect U.S. commitment to the "road map" peace plan. But, they said, if the Palestinians fails to find the culprits, it could erode any remaining U.S. confidence in P.A. anti-terror efforts.

Palestinian terrorist groups sought to distance themselves from the attack.

"We view it as inappropriate to target Europeans, Americans or any nationality other than the occupation forces [of Israel,]" an Islamic Jihad leader, Nafez Azzam, told Reuters.

While Washington weighed its options, Israeli officials made clear that they do not consider this a random act of bloodshed but, if anything, a blood bond between two old allies.

"It’s not just because of U.S. support for Israel as such, but it is because of what Israel and the United States both together stand for," Sharon adviser Ra’anan Gissin said of the motives for the attack.

"They stand for life, for liberty, for democracy here, for pursuing peace," he said. "These victims are victims because of the gallant and very courageous policies that President Bush has been carrying to try and promote peace and hope to the people of the Middle East."

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties

Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."

Bombing Follows Thwarted Attacks

A suicide bus bombing in Haifa has shattered a relative
period of calm in Israel and served as a stark reminder to a country bracing
for the possible implications of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

With the United States stepping up military and diplomatic preparations
for a possible strike against Iraq, much of Israel was focused this week on
when a war might break out and whether it would affect Israel. But the focus
changed abruptly Wednesday when at least 15 people were killed and more than 30
wounded in a suicide bombing on a Haifa bus.

Heftziba Shetreet, who was in a building opposite the
bombing site, described the initial moments of confusion after she heard the

“In the first few seconds, we thought the war had started,”
she told Israel Radio. “We felt the explosion right above our heads. Within
seconds we realized that there was a terrorist attack. We went outside and saw
the bus, completely scorched, cloaked in smoke and the wounded strewn all over.
Without thinking, we immediately ran to help them.” 

It was the first time terrorists had succeeded in carrying
out a suicide bombing in Israel since Jan. 5, when 23 people were killed, some
of them foreign workers, after two suicide bombers launched an attack near Tel
Aviv’s old Central Bus Station. But Israeli security and political officials
stressed that the feeling of quiet was only an illusion, and that Israel has
thwarted numerous attempted bombings since the Tel Aviv attack.

Ya’acov Borovsky, the police chief of the Northern district,
noted that there were some 50 alerts for possible terrorist attacks across Israel
on Wednesday, but no specific warnings of an impending bombing in Haifa.
Immediately following the bombing, police in other Northern communities went on
alert for a possible attempt by terrorist groups to stage a string of attacks,
Channel 2 television reported. 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the
attack. But Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the bombing, saying it came in
response to Israeli military actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The
attack was the first since the new Israeli government took office, but there
was no immediate indication that the Cabinet would adopt a policy different
from that of the previous government.

As he has done following previous acts of terror, Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon blamed the Palestinian Authority for the bombing, saying
it had done nothing to stop such attacks.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of the Shinui Party, a new
member of the Security Cabinet, said Israel should not dramatically alter its
response to terrorist attacks. 

“We must continue to fight terrorism all the time,” he told
Army Radio. “There is no difference between an attempted attack — and there are
many of these — and an attack that succeeds.

“We should not act with an intent for revenge,” he
continued. “We must keep constant pressure on the Palestinians until the
moderates understand that they must put pressure on the extremists.”

Political sources were quoted as saying that the relative
quiet of recent weeks was the direct result of the Israeli army’s ongoing
anti-terrorist activities by in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States and
Britain were among foreign nations condemning the attack.

President Bush “stands strongly with the people of Israel in
fighting terrorism, and his message to terrorists is that their efforts will
not be successful,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Earlier this week, both the United States and Britain had
criticized Israel for harming Palestinian civilians during anti-terror
operations in the Gaza Strip.

Following the attack, Army Radio quoted Palestinians as
reporting that Israeli tanks entered Jenin. Israel Radio reported that troops
had arrested a senior Hamas militant in Ramallah.

In Wednesday’s attack, the Egged bus was about halfway
through its route from the city’s Central Bus Station to Haifa University, at
the tip of Mt. Carmel, when the explosion took place. The powerful blast blew
off the roof, leaving the frame of the bus as charred, twisted metal. Borovsky
said the terrorist apparently boarded the bus several stops before detonating
the bomb.

The bus driver, who was lightly wounded, said he noticed
nothing suspicious prior to the explosion. 

“I pulled up to the stop and opened the doors and suddenly
there was an explosion,” Marwan Darmouni recalled. “Then I didn’t feel
anything. When I opened my eyes, everything was destroyed, there was blood on
my hands. I tried to get off the bus, and everyone was trying to phone the police
and evacuate the wounded.” 

Darmouni, an Israeli Arab from the town of Shfaram, said
that security guards assigned to public transportation usually get on his bus,
but that he hadn’t seen any on Wednesday.

“It’s sad,” Darmouni’s father told Israel’s Channel 10
television. The terrorists “don’t differentiate between blood and blood.”  

World Briefs

Israel Captures Hebrew U. Bombing

Israel arrested a Hamas cell believed responsible for several suicide bombings, including one late last month at Hebrew University. The men, East Jerusalem residents whose Israeli ID cards allowed them to travel the country freely, also are believed to be behind the Moment cafe bombing in March that killed 11 people. In total, they are considered responsible for 35 deaths, including five Americans killed in the July 31 bombing at the university. Israel made the arrests Saturday night, but only released the information Wednesday. According to reports, Mohammed Ouda, a resident of an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem who worked as a painter for an Israeli contractor at the university, planted the bomb. The night before the attack, Ouda, 29, jumped the university fence and hid the bomb in a bag behind a bush, according to reports. The following day, he entered campus using his identity tag and retrieved the bomb. He planted it inside the Frank Sinatra cafeteria and covered the bag with a newspaper. He then left campus, later setting off the explosive by remote control.

Israeli troops began withdrawing from the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and two top P.A. officials agreed Sunday on a plan under which Israeli troops will gradually pull back from Palestinian areas, beginning with Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad vowed to continue attacks despite the agreement.

Popular Front Vows to Avenge Killing

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine vowed to avenge the killing of its leader’s brother. Mohammed Sa’adat, a brother of jailed Popular Front leader Ahmed Sa’adat, was killed in Ramallah on Tuesday after he fired on and wounded two soldiers attempting to arrest him. Ahmed Sa’adat, wanted by Israel for his part in the assassination of Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze’evi last October, was imprisoned in a Jericho jail in May as part of an agreement lifting the blockade on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. In another development, the Al-Aksa Brigade vowed to carry out “massive attacks” to mark the first anniversary of the killing of its commander, Yasser Badwi, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Supremacists to Rock Against Israel

A white supremacist group is planning a large anti-Israel rally in Washington. The neo-Nazi National Alliance is planning a large demonstration and a “Rock Against Israel” white power music concert Saturday outside the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds are expected at the event, and a counter-demonstration by anti-racist skinheads and others is planned as well. The National Alliance has staged several anti-Semitic demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington in the past year.

Bear Kills Girl in Catskills

A 5-month-old Chasidic girl was killed by a bear while vacationing with her family in the Catskills. Esther Schwimmer was snatched from her stroller by the bear and dragged to death in a bungalow community of Orthodox Jews. Her mother took two other children to safety, and by the time she came back for Esther, it was too late. The 150-pound black bear was later shot and killed by a local police officer.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs

‘Gaza First’ Plan OK’d by P.A.

The Palestinian Cabinet gave preliminary approval Wednesday to an Israeli plan for a troop withdrawal from some areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under the plan, Israeli soldiers would withdraw from parts of Gaza and the West Bank city of Bethlehem in exchange for Palestinian guarantees that no attacks would be launched from these areas. Further withdrawals would take place if peace holds in these first areas. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer presented the “Gaza First” plan during a meeting with Palestinian officials earlier in the week. The Palestinian Cabinet’s approval of the plan was contingent on further Israeli-Palestinian meetings. The development came as a delegation of Palestinian officials left for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

Couple Killed in West Bank Ambush

An Israeli husband and wife were killed and their toddler son wounded in a Palestinian ambush Sunday night. Avi Volanski, 29, and his pregnant wife, Avital, 27, were killed when gunmen opened fire on their car as they were traveling on a West Bank road to their home in the settlement of Eli. The couple’s 3-year-old son was moderately wounded. Their 8-month-old son, who was also in the car, was unharmed. Including the Volanskis, 13 people were killed in a series of Palestinian terror attacks Sunday.

U.S. Consulate Cites Security Concerns

The State Department is planning to move part of the U.S. Consulate out of eastern Jerusalem for security reasons. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday that several offices may move to the western part of the city. The consul general’s office, however, is expected to remain there. The consulate primarily deals with relations with the Palestinian Authority.

Democrats Seeking Israel Aid

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) is urging President Bush to sign a bill that would give Israel $200 million in aid. Last week, both houses of Congress authorized the bill, which also calls for an additional $50 million in aid for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “President Bush should sign this legislation,” said Ira Foreman, NJDC’s executive director. “If the president fails to back his rhetoric with action, the rest of the world will receive a poor message concerning U.S. support for the State of Israel.”

Jews Mixed on Voucher Ruling

Jewish groups gave a mixed reaction to a decision that ruled school vouchers unconstitutional in Florida. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) hailed the ruling, in which a trial court judge ruled Monday that the Florida voucher program violated the state’s constitution, which says no state money can be used, even indirectly, to aid sectarian institutions. But the Orthodox Union, which supports vouchers, said the ruling was not unexpected as many states have ‘anti-religious” provisions in their constitutions, and voucher supporters are working to eliminate those amendments. The ADL and the AJC said the ruling shows the limits of a June decision by the Supreme Court, which said vouchers do not violate the separation of church and state under the Constitution. The two groups said state constitutions can be more restrictive of government funding of private and parochial schools.

N.Y. Jewish Cemetery Vandalized

More than 150 tombstones were toppled and several headstones broken at a century-old cemetery on the New York borough of Staten Island. According to the New York Daily News, Staten Island and local Jewish officials expressed outrage at last week’s attack, which caused an estimated $20,000 in damage. Officials at the Baron Hirsch Cemetery said the 88-acre burial ground was also vandalized earlier this year, and several hundred gravestones were toppled a few years ago.

Clinton: I’d die for Israel

President Clinton told a fund-raiser for a Jewish charity that if Iraq attacked Israel, he would “fight and die” for the Jewish state. Speaking at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Toronto for the Hadassah-Women’s International Zionist Organization children’s charity, Clinton said he ‘would grab a rifle and get in the trench and fight and die” should Iraq mount a land attack on Israel in response to a U.S. attack on Iraq. Clinton added that while he did not think there was a military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ‘I know there’s not a terrorist solution to it” either, the paper reported.

U.S. Cuts Sinai Forces

The Pentagon intends to ‘significantly reduce” the number of Americans involved in an international peacekeeping force in the Sinai Desert. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith met last week with Israeli and Egyptian defense officials to discuss plans to cut the 800-member American contingent in the 1,900-strong multinational force — perhaps to as few as 50, some defense officials said.

Rally for Israel Will Cost

A plan to bring thousands of Americans to an international Aug. 13 rally in Jerusalem to support Israel hit a snag after promised private financial backing failed to materialize, The Jewish Week of New York reported. While the 72-hour solidarity trip is proceeding, organizers have been forced to backtrack on promised subsidies that would have helped hundreds of people participate at a bargain price of $550 per person, nearly half the full cost of $995. As a result, thousands of potential participants have dropped out, said Robert Miller, a spokesman for Rally in Israel, an ad hoc New Jersey-based interdenominational group headed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J. The first 140 participants will pay the $550 price, funded through other sources.

All briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Up in Smoke

A U.S.-brokered cease-fire has gone up in a puff of smoke.

Far from giving any substance to the truce that was declared in mid-June, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have become mired in a pattern of attack and counterattack — or, more bluntly, revenge and more revenge.

On Wednesday, Israel reinforced its forces around Palestinian cities in the West Bank in response to what it called an escalation in Palestinian violence. As increased numbers of troops and tanks took up new positions, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denied that the move was part of plans to "reconquer" areas under control of the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, the Palestinians fired a mortar shell at Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, the first time Palestinians have fired mortars at Jerusalem since their violent uprising began nearly 10 months ago.

Palestinian officials said the attack came in retaliation for an Israeli helicopter attack earlier in the day that killed four Hamas militants in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Israeli military officials said the helicopter attack targeted a Hamas leader who was planning to bomb the closing ceremonies of the Maccabiah Games on July 23.

Tuesday’s helicopter assault also came in retribution for a terror attack on Monday, when a suicide bomber killed two Israeli soldiers in the coastal town of Binyamina.

The Binyamina attack, for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, prompted Israeli tanks to shell Palestinian military posts late Monday near the West Bank city of Jenin.

With each new assault, statements from each side provide little reason to hope that the season of action and reaction will end soon.

Israel’s police chief, Shlomo Aharonishky, warned Tuesday of more attempted terror attacks by Islamic militants. Also Tuesday, Islamic Jihad militants vowed to continue attacking Israel, despite a purported warning from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to halt the terror.

Watching as the cease-fire they brokered became increasingly meaningless, U.S. officials were reduced to repeating a familiar mantra — calling on the Palestinian Authority to bring to justice those responsible for terror bombings, and urging the Israeli government to show restraint in the face of such attacks.

"There can be no military solution to this conflict," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

It was not the first time Boucher has offered this opinion, and it was not the first time it went unheeded. Recent days have seen increased diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian violence — but they all have failed.

Following Monday’s terror attack in Binyamina, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s communications adviser, Ra’anan Gissin, told Army Radio that the suicide bombing was a slap in the face from Arafat, who had met a day earlier in Cairo with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

After Sunday’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour, Peres said he had told Arafat that Israel is waiting for seven days of complete calm before starting peace moves. But ensuing events provided little reason to believe there would be calm, or anything close, anytime soon.

Just hours after the Peres-Arafat meeting, two Palestinians were killed while preparing a bomb near a Jerusalem stadium where the Maccabiah Games were due to open the next day.

And on Monday, in some of the fiercest fighting since the Palestinian uprising began last September, Israeli tanks moved into Palestinian-controlled parts of Hebron and exchanged heavy fire with Palestinian gunmen.

During the firefight, Israel destroyed four police posts operated by the Force 17 presidential guard and wounded nine people before withdrawing.

Israel said its incursion came in response to heavy shooting by Palestinian gunmen at Israeli troops and civilians in the volatile West Bank city.

The Peres-Arafat meeting came on the heels of talks last week in Ramallah between Arafat and Sharon’s son, Omri.

Sharon’s oft-declared stance that he will not negotiate while Palestinian violence continues was turned against him by right-wing ministers who criticized the prime minister for letting Peres meet with Arafat.

Sharon defended the Cairo meeting — as he had defended a previous Peres-Arafat encounter in Lisbon last month — by saying the foreign minister had not engaged in negotiations, but had reiterated Israel’s demand for an end to violence, terror and incitement.

Peres’ meeting with Arafat "dealt with one issue: an end to terror and return of security for Israeli citizens,” Sharon said Monday. "In this area, I think we can make every effort.”

Sharon dispatched his son to meet with Arafat on July 12 to reassure him that Israel has no plans to assassinate or unseat Arafat.

Omri Sharon was also directed to reiterate that there would be no negotiations before a complete halt to violence.

Sharon’s meeting followed a report in the London-based publication Foreign Report that Israel has a military plan to destroy the Palestinian Authority and expel Arafat from the territories.

Israel denied the report, and the U.S. State Department said the Bush administration has no knowledge about an Israeli plan to overthrow the Palestinian Authority.

Israel also has indicated that despite its ongoing policy of restraint, it will not tolerate continued attacks. At the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel will not allow any attack to pass without a response — a vow that was upheld following Monday’s suicide bombing in Binyamina.

Also at Sunday’s meeting, the Cabinet agreed to build new towns in a southern part of the country it offered the Palestinians last year in exchange for land in the West Bank. Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said all but one minister at the meeting supported the decision to build towns in the unpopulated Halutza Sands area of the Negev Desert near the Gaza Strip.

During talks with the Palestinians last year, no agreement was reached on the land-swap proposal.

In another development, Israeli security forces on Monday arrested another Palestinian in connection with the lynching last October of two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah. Last month, the security forces disclosed they had arrested a Palestinian who was photographed waving his blood-soaked hands after the lynching.