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PALESTINIAN BLITZ OF SDEROT

Israeli Town Of Sderot Holds General Strike And Day Of Prayer In Protest Against Palestinian Shelling

Palestinian President Abbas Orders His Security Forces To Curb Attacks Against Israel

Israeli Officials: 'A Small Step In Right Direction But Results Are What Count'

Sderot

The residents of Sderot say they've had enough and held a general strike to protest Prime Minister Sharon's failure to halt the Palestinian shelling of their town from over the border in the Gaza Strip. Wearing black ribbons they gathered in the town square for prayers. Most of the six Israelis murdered in last Thursday's suicide bombing lived in Sderot which has been continually terrorized by the Qassam rockets and mortars from Gaza.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now says he has ordered his security forces to prevent attacks against Israel; Israeli officials say 'We'll watch for results'.

The residents of Sderot are both sad and very angry. They accuse Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of not doing enough to stop the Palestinian blitz of their town which has killed and maimed their relatives, children and women and their and fellow citizens.

Wearing black ribbons, some residents of Sderot carried placards reading: 'Sharon, Wake Up!' The schools and shops were closed as prayers were held for the latest victims of the Palestinian attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The residents say they are being terrorized. They and their children live in constant fear, day and night, never knowing when and where the next Qassam rocket or mortar will fall. Mayor Eli Moyal talks of organizing a protest march to the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Hanun just a couple of miles away. It is from there, among the Palestinian population that the terrorists often launch the shelling cheered on by Beit Hanun residents.Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim warns that Israel is giving Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a final chance to halt the terrorism, but that window of opportunity will close if the attacks continue. Boim says IDF artillery might be deployed near Beit Hanun and fire back if the shelling does not stop. As Boim puts it: 'We will not conduct an all out offensive like the Americans did in Falluja, but the Palestinians must understand they may also be shelled.'

Until now, the IDF has carried out local ground operations and 'surgical' air strikes to target the terrorists.

Former Labor Prime minister Ehud Barak chides Sharon for not visiting the beleaguered Sderot. Barak also criticizes the PM for declaring the government has imposed 'no restrictions' on IDF operations. Barak, a former IDF Chief of Staff adds clearly the military takes its orders from the political leadership.

President Mahmoud Abbas

With time obviously running out for the new Palestinian President, he has now ordered his considerable security forces to prevent attacks against Israel. In addition, Abbas has incorporated the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades into the Palestinian security apparatus which is comprised of some fourteen organizations. Al Aksa terrorists have carried out hundreds of attacks and also joined Hamas in claiming responsibility for last Thursday's suicide bombing at the Karni terminal. Moreover, Palestinian security personnel are suspected of being in cahoots with the three Karni suicide bombers who made it to the Israeli side of the terminal with automatic rifles and a large quantity of explosives.

Reactions: A Hamas spokesman in Gaza rejects the call to halt the terrorism. He says it would only enable Israel to continue its 'aggression and occupation'. Israeli officials reacted by calling it 'a small step in the right direction but performance is what counts.' The key is whether the Palestinian security forces will actually deploy on the ground. A first move could be to shut down the launch sites in Gaza from where the terrorists shell Sderot. A Palestinian official told Israel Radio that President Abbas intends to personally oversee an end to the terrorism including the Qassam rocketing. The Palestinian leader also expects Israel to cease all operations against the Palestinians.

What does all this mean? Mahmoud Abbas is obviously feeling the heat of his new position and possibly getting Jerusalem's message. He is being forced to act, or at least to 'act' as if he is going to halt the terrorism. Abbas will visit the Gaza Strip this week and the question there is what kind of reception will he get from Hamas and Islamic Jihad? The last time Abbas visited Gaza it was to the funeral tent of Yasser Arafat. Then he had to be whisked away by his bodyguards, when shooting broke out.

In Ramallah, a group of left wing Knesset members led by Yahad leader, Yossi Beilin met with Abbas. The new Palestinian leader spoke of needing a month to take control of his security forces and to deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Mahmoud Abbas also said he would need Israel's help to succeed.

As for Prime Minister Sharon, he is also feeling the heat. Some residents of Sderot warn if more Qassam rockets hit their town, they'll pack up their families and move out. Kibbutz communal settlements in the north are also offering to host Sderot's children to give them a breather from the Palestinian blitz.

David Essing

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