Israel has called up an estimated 2,000 army reservists as troops prepared to take control of five major Palestinian towns in the West Bank. The mobilization of soldiers is aimed at halting a wave of Palestinian terror attacks, including suicide bombings. But not all members of the Israeli cabinet are happy about some of the measures being taken.
In the latest incursion, Israeli troops backed by about 60 tanks and armored personnel carriers swept into Qalqilya in the West Bank. Israeli troops also have moved back into at least four other Palestinian-ruled towns: Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarem.
Daniel Taub, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, says Israel is being forced to launch the offensive in a bid to halt Palestinian suicide bombings. "Israel has had to call up yet another round of reserve soldiers," he said. "It is not something that we want to do, and it means many families are losing their fathers and husbands. The reason we are doing this is because quite simply because the Palestinian Authority has still failed to fulfill any of the commitments that it undertook to fulfill over the last eight years."
At the same time, the Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer denied claims that the Israeli military also planned to take over the running of the civil administration in Palestinian areas.
He says he wants the troops to be deployed for no longer than six months and that the soldiers are not out to punish all Palestinians, but only searching for those involved in terror.
He was reacting to statements by Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat, who accused Israel of wanting to destroy the Palestinian Authority and "to replace it with the Israeli civil administration and Israeli military government."
"It is obvious that the Israeli government now is resuming fully its occupation," he said. "They are continuing the destruction of the Palestinian Authority."
Israel, meanwhile, is considering a number of other steps. They include expelling suspected Palestinian terrorists from the territories and the forced transfer of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
Some Israeli cabinet ministers also want the homes of these families to be demolished, but such sanctions are likely to be opposed by the international community as a form of collective punishment.
At the same time, bitter arguments broke out in Israel's cabinet Sunday over the decision to build a security fence around the West Bank in a bid to stop Palestinians crossing into the Jewish state to launch violent attacks.
Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, warned the cabinet that the fence, which encroaches into the West Bank, will do "great diplomatic damage" to the country's reputation.
He says he may consider quitting the government if the proposed maps of the fence are not altered.