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ISRAEL'S WITHDRAWAL MOVES INTO HIGH GEAR

PM Sharon: 'Let There Be No Misunderstandings The IDF Will Respond With Massive Force If Palestinians Attack During Gaza Withdrawal'

'I Have Informed Americans, Israel Will Not Negotiate Roadmap If Palestinians Do Not Dismantle Terror Infrastructure'

IDF Intelligence: 'If No Progress On Roadmap After Withdrawal, Terrorists Will Launch All- Out Terrorism From West Bank, Including Qassam Rockets'

Knesset Hearing

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spelled out where he stands before, during and after Israel's August withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements. Sharon headed a team of Israeli officials at a hearing of the joint Defense and Constitution committees in the Knesset. Earlier in the day, the IDF chief of military intelligence rated Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's chances of success as 'slim to very slim'. General Aharon Zeevi Farkash also warned if the terror organizations are not happy with political progress after Israel's disengagement, they will launch a new wave of terrorism, mainly from the West Bank.

P.M. Sharon: 'Let There Be No Misunderstandings'

P.M. Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has issued a double- barrel warning - Israel will clobber Palestinian terrorists if they attack Israeli civilians during the August evacuation; and he will enter Roadmap negotiations after the withdrawal, only on condition the Palestinians dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.At the Knesset hearing, the Prime Minister declared all systems were go for Israel's evacuation of the Gaza Strip[ and 4 West Bank settlements after August 15th. Although government officials and the settlers spoke of problems in housing, jobs and education for the 9,000 settlers and children, Sharon declared the withdrawal would be carried out on schedule. He was lambasted by right wing MKs and settlers who branded his disengagement plan as being rash and reckless. One mother, who lives in the Gaza Strip, broke into tears when she spoke of how her children were upset and could not understand why they were now being ordered to pack up and leave the only homes they had ever known. Despite the bitter criticism, Sharon was unruffled; the disengagement was in the national interest and would not be carried out under Palestinian fire. The the PM added: 'Let their be no misunderstandings, if the Palestinians open fire on Israel women and babies as they are being evacuated the IDF has been ordered to use all its means to suppress the fire. This might cause a temporary delay but the evacuation will be carried out!' Also addressing the hearing, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the IDF would be ready on land, sea and in the air to protect Israel's unilateral withdrawal. Mofaz hoped it would be possible to complete the entire operation within less than the target period of 4 weeks. In any case, the IDF would remain in Gaza a little longer to dismantle its bases and move out. The Defense Minister revealed that work has already started on reinforcing Israeli communities across the border in the Negev which would be within range of Qassam rockets after the pullback.

So what is the risk that the terror organizations will try to hit the exposed Israeli civilians when they are being evacuated? At a closed door hearing of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the IDF intelligence chief said the terrorists, except for the Islamic Jihad, have been watching Israel's disengagement plan and have an interest in preserving the current 'lull that is full of bullet holes'. General Aharon Zeevi Farkash spoke of Hamas listening to the Palestinian Street which is shouting: 'Enough of intifada!' The Palestinian Authority is now mustering a security force of up to 5,500 armed personnel that will be sent in to take control of the Gaza area evacuated by Israel. The intelligence assessment is that the lull in the intifada will prevail until after the disengagement. Then there would be a short period of quiet maybe even a drop in the current sporadic attacks, but if the terrorists were not satisfied with progress on the political track, they would launch an all-out wave of terrorism, mainly from the West Bank. The General spoke of the launching of Qassam rockets and the dispatching of more suicide bombers. At present, all the terror groups are exploiting the lull to build up their arsenals and trying to produce more Qassam rockets with greater range and accuracy. And this point, the intelligence chief said the terrorists on the West Bank view Qassam rockets as a strategic objective to duplicate their capability in the Gaza Strip.

Collision Course: Ariel Sharon made clear today that several things must happen before Israel will enter Roadmap negotiations. First, the Palestinians must totally halt terrorism, violence and incitement. Second, the terror organizations must be dismantled and illegal weapons confiscated by the Palestinian Authority. Third, there must be a stop to Palestinian arms smuggling and the producing of weapons. Sharon referred to these conditions as being Palestinian commitments. The Prime Minister went on to say he had informed the Americans, the Europeans and the Palestinians that this was the Israeli government's position which would not change. If so, and Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of taking on the terrorists, what happens after the disengagement?

Mahmoud Abbas: Another question is whether Abbas may be on his way out. IDF intelligence rates Abbas's chances of achieving his political goals as being 'slim to very slim'. Abbas took office with the objective of converting Arafat's regime of terrorism into one of political compromise. The Abbas motto was, 'One Authority, One Gun'. He tried making reforms and halting anti-Israeli incitement mainly on radio programs. However, the Palestinian leader 'lacks the stamina to carry on and is losing ground to Hamas'. For its part, Hamas is not interested in joining a national unity cabinet because it wants to steer clear of the corruption in the Palestinian Authority and clean up in the future election. The ruling Fatah party is riven with power struggles and in fact is responsible for more than half of the terror attacks on Israelis since the lull began in February. Apparently realizing that someone else may have to seek his goals, Mahmoud Abbas is considering the appointment of a deputy.

Egypt: The intelligence chief says Cairo views the deployment of 750 Egyptian Border Guards on its frontier with the Gaza Strip as the first stage to moving its Border Guards all the way from Sharm el Sheik to the Israeli port of Eilat. The proposal, supported by Sharon, is aimed at blocking Palestinian arms smuggling from Egyptian controlled Sinai into the Gaza Strip. Egyptian officials have argued that its policemen are not capable of stopping the smuggling and the Border Guards are. The problem is the Border Guards are a military unit which serves in the Egyptian Army. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty bars Egyptian military forces from serving in Sinai so there is some concern in Israel that the proposal could unravel the demilitarization of Sinai. In any case, from April to May there has been no Palestinian arms smuggling from Egypt. This is attributed to actions by the Palestinian Authority and Israeli troops now stationed at the southern tip of Gaza in a narrow security zone. If the Egyptian Border Guards do replace the Israeli force they would be armed with light weapons, rocket propelled grenades and travel in armored cars. While the Border Guards are considered to be ineffective for offensive operations, one MK queried what happens if the Egyptian army secretly replaces them with special forces?

David Essing

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