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Israel's Attack on Palestinian Militants is Start of 'Extensive Operation,' says Sharon - 2002-06-24

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel is preparing a major operation in the Gaza Strip against the militant Hamas movement. Mr. Sharon's comments came after Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at two cars in the Gaza Strip, killing at least six people and injuring several others. Mr. Sharon indicated that the attacks Monday morning were only the beginning of a massive operation.

He said after the recent string of terrorist attacks in Israel, the government decided to launch what he termed "extensive operations," which will involve "remaining in Palestinian towns for an extended, unlimited period of time."

Speaking to members of his Likud Party in Jerusalem, the Israeli leader rejected the idea that the operation being planned is an occupation, referring to it as a presence, and he repeated the government position that it would last as long as necessary to take care of terrorists, their strongholds and their commanders. In Monday's action, Israeli attack helicopters fired into two cars in the Gaza Strip carrying suspected militants. Among the dead is Yasser Rezzik, a man wanted by Israel for allegedly killing Israelis and for planning suicide attacks.

Israeli forces have killed dozens of suspected militants over the past 21 months. Israel says the policy is aimed at preventing attacks while Palestinians say the attacks are assassinations.

Earlier Monday, Israeli forces entered the West Bank city of Ramallah and surrounded the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. They imposed a curfew and took control of strategic points of the city.

Meanwhile in Gaza City, Palestinian police say they placed the spiritual leader of the militant group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest.

Speaking to journalists from his house in Gaza City, Sheikh Yassin lashed out at the Palestinian Authority for yielding to pressure from the Americans. The sheikh said it is impossible for his people to accept being arrested, jailed and killed while the Americans just sit there and watch. And he said, no one, not the United States, Israel or the international community, can impose their solutions on the Palestinians.

Israel has moved troops into several West Bank cities and towns in the past few days, following three Palestinian attacks that killed 31 Israelis last week.