Israel steps up military pressure on Gaza

11 October 2002

Shrugging off unusually strong criticism from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described a military strike in the Gaza Strip on 7 October that left 16 Palestinians dead as a success and warned that his troops would carry out more attacks in the area. A White House spokesman said that US President Bush was 'deeply concerned' by the morning raid on Khan Younis, in which a helicopter gunship fired a missile into a crowded street. Israeli troops had moved into the city in the early hours in search of members of the Islamic group Hamas, shooting dead the mother of one alleged terrorist and arresting an unrelated Palestinian.

'We are in touch with the Israelis to tell them that they have to examine their actions with great care, to avoid this kind of loss of life, which does not further our efforts to find a peaceful solution,' US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 8 October. 'We are concerned about this level of civilian casualties and the consequences of this kind of activity.'

The first consequences became apparent on 10 October, when a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv killed one Israeli woman and injured 30 others. The bombing followed a series of fresh Israeli raids across the Gaza Strip. A 12-year-old girl was killed by heavy machine gun fire in the southern town of Rafah on 8 October, while three Palestinians were killed and 17 injured during an incursion into the Rafah refugee camp.

The US' growing impatience with Sharon's strong-arm tactics appeared to have galvanised a new round of diplomacy, with attention turning again to the question of Israel's settlements in the Occupied Territories. Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad arrived in Washington in early October to brief US officials on the settlements. A document drafted by the Palestinian Authority warns that 'if the international community continues to remain unwilling to rein in Israeli colony construction and expansion, irreversible 'facts on the ground' and the de facto apartheid system - such facts will force Palestinians to re-evaluate the plausibility of a two-state solution.'

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