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November 29, 2002

Israel: Only Arafat Off Limits To IDF

It is time to lift this one restriction!
TEL AVIV — Israel’s government is said to have removed all but one restriction on military operations.

The restriction is the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the expulsion or arrest of chairman Yasir Arafat.

“Today there are no limits on the nature of operations or their length of intensity,” Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said. “The IDF is operating everywhere in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.”

The defense minister issued the assertion on Friday hours after Israel’s military recaptured the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Officials said Bethlehem has turned into a launching pad for suicide missions against Israel, including the bombing of an Israeli passenger bus in which 11 people were killed on Thursday.

But Mofaz ruled out the destruction of the Arafat regime. He said the decision to replace Arafat must be made by the Palestinians themselves.

“In our circumstances, we have to be very considerate in our response,” Mofaz said.

The minister, a former chief of staff, said Israel will not agree to negotiate with the Palestinians until they end their more than two-year war against the Jewish state. Another condition he cited was the replacement of Arafat.

“Over the next year, there will be the beginning of global changes that will affect the Middle East,” Mofaz said. “Will these changes be final? The answer is no.”

In Bethlehem, Israel’s military demolished five homes of Palestinian militants. They included those from the ruling Fatah movement and Islamic opposition groups. In addition, more than 30 suspected insurgents have been captured by the military. (See story below.)

In Washington, the U.S. urged Israel to complete its military operation in Bethlehem. “We are also urging the Israelis, in the course of their operations, to keep in mind the consequences of their actions, to complete these operations as quickly as possible and to take steps to avoid further civilian casualties,” State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said on Friday. (MENL)