JERUSALEM, AFP and AP
The Israeli army on Thursday started an emergency call-up of reservist soldiers after the Cabinet cleared the way for retaliatory operations for a Palestinian suicide bombing, Israeli military sources said.
The sources did not say how many soldiers were to be called up under the draft, although army radio said it applied to almost all combat and logistical units. They will undergo a short training period before being sent into operations.
The security Cabinet had earlier endorsed military strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to a suicide bombing outside Tel Aviv that left 16 dead plus the bomber.
“There are no divergences in our view on the necessity of our troops intervening against the terrorist infrastructures in the Gaza Strip, taking into account the lessons from Operation Defensive Wall,” Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told public radio after the security Cabinet’s late night meeting.
The head of the Israeli army, General Shaul Mofaz, on Tuesday said his forces could launch a new operation in the Palestinian territories that would be even larger than Defensive Wall, which swept the West Bank last month. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the aim was not to take over land but to target “suicide terrorists.”
“We are not going to conquer the territories but we’re going to hit at the nests of terror. The aim is to get to those places where there is an isolated concentration of suicide terrorists,” he told reporters.
The Cabinet authorized the mobilization of 20,000 troops before Defensive Wall, although not all the troops were called up in the end and many were demobilized after it ended.
Meanwhile, Palestinians arrested 16 Hamas members in a first sign that Yasser Arafat was taking action against terror groups.
In Gaza City, Hamas officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that 16 members were arrested Thursday by Palestinian police. None of the senior members of the group were among those taken into custody.
U.S. President George W. Bush’s spokesman reacted cautiously, saying the key test will be whether those arrested remain in custody.
“We’re looking into the reports of the arrests,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.