Sharon's latest strike

Attacks: Israel's latest military campaign on the West Bank can only prolong the violence.

March 02, 2002

WHEN ISRAELI soldiers, tanks and helicopter gunships stormed two Palestinian refugee camps the other night, there was but one conclusion to draw: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is intent on fighting his way out of the 17-month conflict.

Israel has said it launched the assaults and house-to-house searches to rout Palestinian militants and their cache of bomb-making tools from the camps. The Balata camp, on the outskirts of Nablus, has a long and violent history of resisting Israel's presence in the West Bank.

The incursions began on Thursday, the same day two U.S. envoys met in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Abdullah, who recently proposed a peace initiative to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Saudi overture was welcomed here, abroad and among segments of the Israeli public as a chance to break the Mideast stalemate. But Mr. Sharon, a former general who led similar raids as an Army commander in the 1970s, obviously had another initiative on his mind. At least 12 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have died in the assaults.

The refugee camps, home to families of Palestinians who fled their homes during the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, remained under siege yesterday. A United Nations agency oversees the camps, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants Israel to leave swiftly.

Mr. Sharon should order Israeli troops out now. He appears to have accomplished his mission: Reportedly among the dead is the leader of a militant Palestinian faction that has sent suicide bombers to Israel. And his reliance on the military isn't earning him points with his constituents, either -- a poll released yesterday showed 53 percent of Israelis were dissatisfied with his overall performance.

How many more will be buried in this war of vengeance?

Palestinians have already responded to the Israeli incursion -- firing into the Jewish quarter in Hebron and the neighborhood of Gilo outside Jerusalem. The likelihood of ever deadlier responses increases the longer Israeli troops remain in the camps.

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