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Israel Destroys Suspected Gaza Arms Factory - 2001-11-04

The Israeli army Sunday demolished three Palestinian factories in the Gaza Strip suspected of producing mortar shells. The action came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon postponed a visit to the White House, saying his country is at war with the Palestinians.

Israeli forces fired surface-to-surface missiles at three factories in the Gaza Strip, destroying what the army described as facilities to manufacture mortars.

The attack set the buildings on fire, spewing black smoke into the air.

The raid followed the reported firing of 30 mortar shells at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

An Israeli army spokesman justified the action, in his words, in order to stop the Palestinian terror and to protect the lives of Israeli citizens.

In cancelling his Washington trip, Mr. Sharon says he wants to be personally on hand to supervise any Israeli troop withdrawal from Palestinian ruled cities, fearing that it could lead to a rise in Palestinian terrorism.

Observers speculated that the real reason for the postponement of talks in Washington was Mr. Sharon's desire to avoid a direct clash with U.S. President George W. Bush over the continued presence of Israeli soldiers in Palestinian-ruled areas.

Mr. Sharon reportedly made his decision following his meeting last week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

During the course of their discussions in Israel, Mr. Blair reportedly said that President Bush expects the Israeli Government to promote a new peace initiative.

This is a sensitive issue for Mr. Sharon according to some Israeli analysts.

Hemi Shalev, writing in the Hebrew daily newspaper Ma'ariv, said "there are those who believe Sharon's problem is that the Americans expect him to present a plan to them, and he doesn't have one in stock."

Mr. Blair also emphasized that Mr. Bush wants Israel to immediately withdraw from all Palestinian-ruled cities in the West Bank.

Israeli troops entered the cities following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi last month.

Mr. Sharon says that he has no intention to permanently re-occupy Palestinian ruled areas and that the soldiers will leave once calm is restored and the Palestinians halt terror attacks against Israelis.