Sharon unrelenting on Gaza offensive

MANAMA, OCT. 11. Israel today continued its military offensive in Gaza claiming more Palestinian lives. Over 110 Palestinians have died so far as a result of the offensive which is now into its second week.

A Palestinian schoolteacher and a gunman were killed in separate missile strikes on a refugee camp on Sunday. Israel has claimed that the offensive was aimed at destroying the capability of the Palestinians to launch Qasam rocket attacks on Israeli targets.

Political angle

Many Israeli commentators, however, concede that the military intrusion has a political angle linked to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to pull out from Gaza. In the face of accusations by ultra-Right parties that a unilateral pullout from Gaza will be interpreted as a victory for the second intifada, Mr. Sharon wants to prove a point that the withdrawal is being made from a position of strength. The Israeli army launched the latest offensive in Gaza after two Israeli children were killed in a rocket attack on the town of Sderot late last month.

Ha'aretz reported that the Israeli armed forces have recommended that the ongoing army operation in Gaza should end and that troops should be pulled out of the Palestinian refugee camp of Jabaliya - the focus of the Israeli attack. Mr. Sharon, the daily added, has so far refused to accept his army's recommendation.

Parliament vote ahead

The Gaza offensive comes ahead of a vote in Parliament on Mr. Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan. Analysts say that the ultra-Right National Religious Party (NRP) is likely to leave Mr. Sharon's Right wing coalition if the Prime Minister goes ahead with the plan. Without their backing Mr. Sharon would be left with 55 seats in the 120-member parliament. The opposition Labour party is, however, expected to back Mr. Sharon's plan.

Ultra-Right lobby groups for settlers are expected to raise the level of protests once the Gaza disengagement plan, which envisages the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers from the area, is approved. The Daily Star, a daily in Lebanon, said the ultra-Right's capacity to oppose the disengagement plan was formidable and that its sympathisers had penetrated key Israeli institutions. "Right-wing Orthodox groups have long been systematically infiltrating the army, particularly elite units. Most settlements, but especially those that are bastions of the extreme right ... have strong links with the Israel Army," the comment said.

Many Palestinians, however, dismiss the notion that the Israeli Right is fragmented. Taufic Haddad, co-editor of the Palestinian monthly, Between the Lines, told The Hindu that Israel had been consistently working to implement the Allon plan, which calls for the "establishment of isolated Palestinian cantons whose social services are administered locally by collaborative authorities, while Israel annexes the lion's share of the West Bank land and water resources."

He described Mr. Sharon's plan as an effort to make the Gaza Strip a "massive open-air prison" where Palestinians would be unable to exercise any political rights.

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