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Tuesday, May 08, 2001, updated at 07:57(GMT+8)

Sharon Calls on Israelis to Be Prepared for Protracted Conflicts

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Monday that Israel will take more offensives in fighting against Palestinian "terrorism" and called on Israelis to be prepared for a long and difficult confrontation with the Palestinians.

Sharon opened the summer session of the Knesset (parliament) by urging the Palestinians to end violence and return to the negotiating table. He accused the Palestinian National Authority of being engaged in smuggling weapons.

The hawkish Israeli leader said that Israelis now face a long and complex struggle with the Palestinians and there is no quick fix.

He reiterated that the Israelis will not negotiate under fire, adding that there must a full cessation of hostilities for renewal of negotiations.

Sharon, who also expressed the desire to bid for reelection in 2003, said that any future negotiations with the Palestinians will be conducted directly on the basis of signed agreements.

His 20-minute speech was often interrupted by Arab Knesset members and opposition leader Yossi Sarid from the left-wing Meretz Party.

Sarid, for his part, warned that the policy of sending the Israeli army into Palestinian-controlled areas, or Area A, might lead to disasters.

The dovish leader cautioned that the Israeli army commanders in the field feel that they have the green light to enter the Palestinian areas, saying that the move was fraught with danger.

Sarid, who presented a motion of no-confidence in the government, accused Sharon of having no political platforms.

Speaking in the Likud caucus earlier Monday, Sharon rejected any fear of escalating the situation by sending the Israeli forces into Palestinian-controlled areas.

He said that Israel was not interested in escalating the situation and there was no danger of escalation or war. He noted that his government's "foremost commitment was to restore security for its citizens."

More than 470 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the seven-month-old Palestinian Al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising against Israeli occupation.

Dialog With Muslim Authorities on Al-Aqsa Mosque

Sharon has decided to open a channel of dialog with the Muslim Wakf, or Islamic Trust in charge of the holy Muslim shrines in Jerusalem, in order to find a way to allow Jews to ascend to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Holy City, Israeli Army Radio reported Monday.

Following the outbreak of the current Palestinian Al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising, against Israel last September, Jews have been barred from climbing atop the walled compound, which encloses the Dome of Rock Mosque and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

The site, where two ancient Jewish temples were built, is known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The second of two Jewish temples there was destroyed by Romans in 70 A.D.

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Eli Suissa and Wakf representative Sheikh Adnan Husseni held a special discussion on various aspects of the subject with Sharon at the prime minister's office.

Landau and Livnat demanded that Sharon re-open the area to Jews immediately, while Ben Eliezer reportedly demanded the public security ministry first deal with the problem of Palestinians throwing stones at Jewish prayers at the West Wall plaza directly below the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, "and then take care of the rest."

Suissa said that Jews should not be allowed up on the Temple Mount at present.

"As long as Israel forbids Palestinians from the (Palestinian) territories from praying on the Temple Mount, the idea of Jews going there is out of the question," Husseni said.

The mosques on the Temple Mount and the nearby Western Wall, the only remaining part of the Second Temple and the holiest site in Judaism, are at the heart of a dispute between Israel and Palestinians over East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Apologizes for Killing of Palestinian Baby Girl

Sharon on Monday apologized for the killing of a Palestinian baby girl by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the Gaza Strip earlier in the day.

Sharon said that he was sorry for the death of the four-month- old baby girl, identified as Iman Hijo, adding that the IDF did not intend to harm children.

"Children and babies should not be involved in this terrible war that we would like one day to finish," Sharon told the Israeli Radio.

Monday's fighting in the Gaza Strip began when Palestinians fired four mortar shells at two Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, without causing injuries, the IDF said.

In response, Israeli tanks shelled buildings in the Khan Yunis refugee camp and IDF troops fired large-caliber machine guns, killing the girl and wounding 24 Palestinians, including 10 children, Palestinian doctors said.

One shell hit the shack of Hijo's family in the camp, killing the baby instantly, with shrapnel tearing an orange-sized hole into her back. The girl's 19-year-old mother as well as three children belonging to the extended family were wounded.

One of the children, 18-month-old Mahmoud with shrapnel wounds over his body was in intensive care at Nasser Hospital, doctors said.

Debris and shrapnel also fell in the yard of the camp's Khaldieh School, but it was not immediately clear whether students were hurt. Witnesses initially said that a shell hit the school directly.

An IDF spokesperson confirmed the shelling, but said he had no details on damage and injuries.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, about 2,000 Palestinians attended the funeral of Mohammed Abayad, a militiaman killed on Sunday in an Israeli raid of the nearby village of Beit Jalla. It was the first Israeli incursion into a West Bank town in the seven months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said after the raid that brigade and battalion commanders were allowed to send their troops into Palestinian-controlled territory known as Area A.

"In principle, I have approved any entry into Area A if that is necessary to guarantee our security," he said.

Overnight, the IDF troops seized a Palestinian police station on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Tulkarm and razed it in response to a two-hour firefight triggered by the Palestinians.

In the confrontation, a 55-year-old Palestinian teacher was killed by Israeli shelling, and six others injured.

No Diplomatic Talks With Palestinians Before Violence Ends

The Israeli government will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians before Palestinian violence was halted, Sharon said.

After a meeting with visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias Van Aartsen, Sharon told reporters that he has emphasized to Aartsen the necessity of halting all forms of Palestinian terrorism.

"Arafat is wasting very precious time...terrorism and violence will yield him nothing," he said.

Sharon said he viewed most of the report of the International Inquiry Committee on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a positive light since the report called on the Palestinian (National) Authority to honor its commitments and take immediate steps to halt violence.

It also called for a period of calm ahead of confidence-building measures and opposed to the internationalization of the conflict, he added.

The committee, headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, delivered the report to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides last Friday.

Sharon stressed that his primary obligation is to the security of Israel's citizens and added that if the PNA does not act to halt the violence, Israel will be obliged to do so without, however, intending to escalate the situation.

"We are suffering daily losses and there is no country which can tolerate this," he noted.

A testing period for an Egyptian-Jordanian proposal aimed at ending Israel-Palestinian violence would be determined according to conditions on the ground, Sharon said.

A peace settlement could only be achieved after there is complete quiet and all signed agreements have been implemented, he stressed.

Van Aartsen, who arrived in the region Sunday night on a fact- finding mission about the conflict, held talks earlier in Tel Aviv with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

The Dutch foreign minister told reporters after the meeting that although the Middle East peace process is in crisis, there is still a chance for the parties concerned to reach a peace settlement.

He is scheduled to hold talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before traveling to Egypt.

In This Section

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Monday that Israel will take more offensives in fighting against Palestinian "terrorism" and called on Israelis to be prepared for a long and difficult confrontation with the Palestinians.

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