´Total war´ engulfs Middle East as road map is torn to shreds (GUARDIAN UK) Chris McGreal in Gaza City 06/13/03)
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Israel declared total war on Hamas yesterday, with the Islamic
resistance movement responding by ordering all its fighters to
immediately mobilise and "blow up the Zionist entity".
The threat of escalation in an already bloody week for Palestinians
and Israelis alike came hours before the army launched its fifth
helicopter missile strike since Tuesday, killing a Hamas activist and
six civilians. Among the dead were the man´s wife and two- year-old
It brought to 35 the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in
violence over the past two days alone.
The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, announced plans for a
meeting of other members of the quartet backing the US-led road map
to a Palestinian state - Russia, the European Union and the United
Nations - in an attempt to save the process.
The talks will probably take place in Jordan, the scene of last
week´s summit between President George Bush, the Israeli prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud
Abbas, which briefly revived hopes that conflict might give way to
But they are unlikely to happen for at least 10 days, and a lot more
blood is likely to be spilled before then.
Israel´s defence minister, General Shaul Mofaz, yesterday ordered his
forces to "use everything they have" against Hamas following
Wednesday´s suicide bombing on a Jerus-alem bus, which claimed 17
That attack came in retaliation for the Israeli army´s botched
attempt to assassinate Hamas´s political leader, Abdel-Aziz al-
Rantissi. That, in turn, was prompted by the killing of five Israeli
soldiers to demonstrate Hamas´s opposition to concessions made by the
new Palestinian leadership at the Aqaba summit, including declaring
an end to the intifada.
Hours after Gen Mofaz´s order, Hamas responded with its own
escalation. "We call on all military cells to act immediately and act
like an earthquake to blow up the Zionist entity and tear it to
pieces," Hamas said in a statement.
"The Jerusalem attack is the beginning of a new series of revenge
attacks _ in which we will target every Zionist occupying our land."
It warned foreigners to leave Israel for their own safety.
The British government announced yesterday it is to crack down on
organisations in Britain raising funds for Hamas. The foreign
secretary, Jack Straw, is discussing with the US ways to squeeze
countries and individuals funding Hamas, especially wealthy
individuals in Saudi Arabia who provide the bulk of the money,
channelled through Damascus to Gaza and the West Bank. He is also to
discuss a clampdown with other European Union countries. Although
Hamas is a proscribed organisation in Britain, the government has
been holding back over the last year to see whether the Islamist
organisation would sign up to a ceasefire.
Mr Straw seemed to concede yesterday that this approach had failed,
saying the chance of a ceasefire from Hamas was limited.
"One of the things that has to come out of this appalling outrage is
a greater determination by the international community to clamp down
on funding and support for organisations like Hamas," he said.
At an emergency Israeli cabinet meeting, Mr Sharon vowed to stick
with the road map but derided Palestinian leaders as "cry-babies who
let terror run rampant" and then complained when Israel retaliated
against attacks. Mr Sharon described Mr Abbas as a "chick without
"We have to help him fight terror until his feathers grow," he
said. "The state of Israel will continue to pursue the Palestinian
terror organisations and their leaders to the bitter end."
But a Palestinian cabinet minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, dismissed Mr
Sharon´s comments as duplicitous.
"His aim is to discredit the Palestinian government and to
assassinate his real enemy, which is the road map," he said.
Mr Abbas said he would renew efforts to persuade Hamas to agree to a
ceasefire, but Palestinian sources said the chances of fresh talks in
the short term were dim.
The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, who unusually described the
Jerusalem bus bombing as "terrorism", called on the US, Europeans and
United Nations to intervene to halt the escalation. "We are in need
of strong pressure to stop this aggression against our people," he
The latest Israeli assault on Gaza City came when helicopters fired a
barrage of rockets into a car, killing a senior Hamas activist,
Yasser Taha, his family and four other people. Mr Taha was an aide to
another prominent activist, Mohammed Deif, who was assassinated last
year. About 40 people were wounded.
Mussallam Amaireh, a guard at a neighbouring mosque, said the car was
engulfed in flames. "It was so terrible to see. People were burning
in there," he said.
Furious Palestinians waved one of the dead infant´s shoes and her
feeding bottle, and screamed abuse about Mr Sharon.
"If Sharon wants blood, we are prepared to shed ours to spill his,"
shouted an enraged young man called Yusuf.
The car was hit close to a cemetery where a few hours earlier
funerals were held for 11 people killed in the previous day´s Israeli
Thousands of Palestinians marched through Gaza´s streets
chanting "bombardment for bombardment and blood for blood" ahead of
But not everyone was enthusiastic about an escalation in the
"We have our children to consider," said Mada Jabali, a middle-aged
woman with four children in tow.
"We don´t want them to go on living under occupation but we do want
them to live. There have been too many martyrs and too many of them
have been children. We don´t want more." (Guardian Unlimited ©
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003 06/13/03)
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