Israel trains its guns on Gaza Strip?

Manama (Bahrain), May 9. Israel has reportedly massed its tanks on the outskirts of Gaza Strip even as its Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon and the Defence Minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, considered their response to the suicide bombing on Tuesday night in which 15 Israelis were killed. The Israeli cabinet, which convened in an emergency session at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv minutes after Mr. Sharon returned from the U.S., authorised the Prime Minister and Defence Minister to take any action that they thought fit. The Israeli media today speculated that another incursion into Ramallah could be chosen as an alternative to the plan to strike in Gaza. The choice of target is likely to depend on the Israeli assessment of where the terrorist behind the attack in Rishon Lezion came from.

Hamas has already claimed responsibility for the attack and most the infrastructure of this organisation is located in the Gaza Strip. But the Gaza Strip is even more densely populated than the West Bank and the refugee camps there are much bigger. Any military incursion there will inflict far more civilian casualties than in the West Bank and Israel has already come in for severe condemnation for its actions in the Jenin refugee camp.

The Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, has warned his colleagues in the cabinet that great care should be taken to ensure that any action is focussed only on the terrorist infrastructure and does not affect civilians.

The Palestinian Authority has already taken over a dozen men into custody and its president, Yasser Arafat, has gone on air to warn his people not to attack Israeli civilians while telling his security forces to resist Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers.

There is speculation that Mr. Arafat may well be the target of the retaliatory action that Israel is expected to take at any moment.

Mr. Sharon and his army chief, Shaul Mofaz, have made no secret of their desire to expel Mr. Arafat from West Asia though the heads of the intelligence services are reported to have warned against such a step.

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