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Friday, October 28, 2005


The New York Post

IT'S open season for Israel on Palestinian terrorists — and the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are in hiding.

After Wednesday's homicide bombing at a falafel stand in Hadera, Israel retaliated with military operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, killing and capturing terror leaders.

Israeli sources said their next target was Hamas bigwig Mahmoud a-Zahar, who told Israel's Haaretz newspaper this week that his group would soon begin kidnapping Israelis.

The new Israeli offensive brings to mind the situation in April 2002, when Israel retaliated for a Passover bombing by retaking control of Palestinian towns in the West Bank and killing or arresting dozens of militants in house-to-house sweeps. The fighting lasted two weeks.

Although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not indicated whether the latest operation would be as widespread, his consistent refrain to aides has been "I am ready to compromise, but there is one thing I won't compromise on: the safety of the Israeli people."

As a result, Sharon said he wouldn't meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, another sign he's ready to take his troops back out to the battlefield.

Sharon had hoped that his pullout from 20 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip in August would be appreciated by the Palestinian Authority.

The pullout caused a mini-revolt in Sharon's own party, and he just narrowly beat rival Bibi Netanyahu in a leadership vote three weeks ago.

The extreme right wing also made political hay because Sharon's concessions did not lead to a tangible decrease in violence by terror groups despite a cease-fire in February.

So, to maintain security — and unite the country's political factions — Sharon is again hunting Palestinian terrorists.

"Mahmoud Abbas has done nothing despite all the help and equipment he got for his forces from other countries. He has not budged an inch," an aide to Sharon told The Post.

The aide said Sharon sees no alternative to hitting targets in the Gaza Strip in order to deter future attacks.

For now, the fragile Israeli government coalition is backing Sharon, who can genuinely lay claim to the mantle of compromise.

He not only kept his promise to pull out of Gaza but also sent his defense minister to Cairo this week in hopes of getting Egypt to loosen its border with Gaza so that Palestinians could travel freely and jump-start their economy.
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