Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for strengthening the Jewish settlements in the Hebron area as he toured the West Bank town on Sunday morning, two days after Palestinians killed 12 Israeli soldiers and settlers.
Sharon, his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, and top army commanders toured the scene of the ambush. The army has arrested at least 40 Palestinians since Saturday and has reinforced a curfew, military officials said.
On Saturday night, Mofaz and Sharon authorized a sweeping Israeli operation in Hebron. Mofaz talked by telephone to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mofaz's office said, adding that Mofaz blamed the Palestinian Authority for the attack.
According to Palestinians, the Israeli troops have taken over seven homes to use as lookout posts and have demolished two homes of suspected members of the Islamic Jihad group, that carried out the attack.
Sharon said Sunday that Israel would bolster the Jewish settlements in the Hebron area by linking up several small settler enclaves in the city and the neighboring Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, just to the east of Hebron, Israeli radio stations reported.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the Israeli takeover of the Palestinian side of Hebron was intended to derail the American efforts to bring a complete cease-fire.
"The continuation of the Israeli military escalation is not going to lead anywhere, apart from creating more violence," Abu Rdeneh said. The Israeli actions would delay the implementation of a U.S. plan to bring an end to violence and bring a resumption of peace talks, Abu Rdeneh said.
The international community called on Israel to show restraint after Friday's shooting attack.
The U.S. State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said Saturday that the Bush administration condemns the ambush "in the strongest terms" but while expressing understanding for Israel's need "to take legitimate anti-terrorist action," Jones said Israeli troops must prevent civilian casualties.
Jones added that the "reprehensible and heinous act of terrorism" occurred two days after a visiting U.S. official, in talks with Palestinian leaders in Jericho, pressed the need "to end immediately the terror and violence that has so undermined Palestinian national aspirations."
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, condemned the Hebron attack, urging Israel to respond "in a measured manner in accordance with international law."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin urged Ariel Sharon "not to give in to the temptation of massive retaliation which plays into the hands of those who committed these terrible attacks."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has also dennounced the killing, calling it a "despicable terrorist attack" and urging Palestinian groups to halt the violence.
"The situation in Hebron is horrifying," Palestinian cabinet minister Nabil Shaath told reporters. "It reflects the kind of government that is in power now. This current Israeli government is not interested in peace nor in reviving the peace path."
Meanwhile, early Sunday, Israeli helicopters fired three missiles at a target near the Gaza city of Khan Younis, Palestinian security officials said. They said the missiles hit a metal workshop, setting a fire, but no one was hurt. The Israeli military said Palestinians used the metal workshop to make weapons.
Also on Sunday, the Israeli army demolished three houses in the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus, belonging to Palestinians suspected of involvement in bombing attacks. Two of the homes destroyed belonged to the family of Mohammed Swelha, who is suspected of planning the suicide attack that took place in Kfar Sava, and the third home belonged to Mohammed Atalla, who carried out a suicide bombing in the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. (Albawaba.com)
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