Israeli troops have scaled back their presence in Bethlehem and turned their attention to the central Gaza Strip. Tanks and armoured vehicles moved overnight into the town of Deir al-Balah and its refugee camp, which lie close to a group of Jewish settlements. Army bulldozers destroyed the home of a Hamas leader suspected of plotting suicide bombings. Forces withdrew from the centre of Bethlehem having been sent in following the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus which killed 12 last week (MEED 22:11:02; 21:11:02).
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under pressure to respond decisively to Palestinian attacks ahead of a party leadership election against Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and general elections in January. At present he appears on course to win both, with latest polls showing him 18 per cent ahead of Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, and Likud well ahead of Labour.
Sharon's chief of staff Dov Weisglass met US National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice yesterday and requested a total of $14,000 million in aid. $4,000 million of this was to be in the form of military assistance, for defending against Palestinian attacks, fighting terrorism and preparing for potential US conflict with Iraq, and the rest to shore up the troubled economy. The US is considering the request.
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