Sharon Refuses IDF Request to Wind Up Jabalya Operation

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is withholding his approval to wrap up the military operation in the northern Gaza Strip, despite the Israel Defense Forces' recommendation to withdraw.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is withholding his approval to wrap up the military operation in the northern Gaza Strip, despite the Israel Defense Forces' recommendation to withdraw.

The operation, called Days of Penitence, will therefore continue, despite the mounting criticism in the General Staff and Southern Command.

Since the start of the operation on September 30, 114 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 39 were civilians.

The IDF commanders said several days ago that the operation, which started two weeks ago tomorrow after a Qassam rocket killed two small children in Sderot, has been concluded and recommended redeploying outside Jabalya refugee camp.

The officers said that remaining in the densely populated camp increases the danger to the troops, noting that the Qassam rocket launchers have been moved to sites outside the camp. They suggested offensives in other places in the Strip, where Qassam rockets are are also launched.

However, Sharon has refrained from approving these recommendations. He ordered the IDF to continue its present deployment and continue pressuring the Palestinians in Jabalya. At the same time he ordered deployment for offensives in other rocket-launching areas.

Apparently Sharon wishes to wait at least until the Qassam alert system starts operating in Sderot. The system will provide a 20- to 30-second warning before the rocket's landing, but it is hoped that it will give the impression of a certain improvement in the town's protection.

Israel Radio reported that the IDF Homefront Command is scheduled to finish preparations for the system's activation on Monday.

The system will include a public address attached to speakers which will alert Sderot residents of incoming Qassams through a recorded code word rather than a siren, according to Israel Radio.

The IDF believes that Sharon will approve a redeployment and scaling down of the number of troops in Jabalya within a few days. Sources said that evacuating Jabalya might encourage Hamas units to resume launching Qassam missiles from the camp to Sderot, to show that the organization had triumphed over the IDF.

IDF troops occupy some 10 buildings in the camp's eastern outskirts and move frequently, to avoid attacks from the Palestinians. There are tanks and armored personnel carriers in the camp, helping to protect the troops in the buildings.

The Golani Brigade, headed by Colonel Erez Zuckerman, on Sunday took over the Jabalya region from the Givati Brigade, which is now preparing for activity in other areas.

Two Palestinians were killed and 23 were injured during ongoing IDF operations in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday. In addition, one IDF soldier was injured.

An explosion rocked the Jabalya refugee camp Sunday evening, when an Israel Air Force missile hit a group of militants planting a bomb for use against IDF troops.

Palestinian witnesses said three people were wounded in the strike, one of them critically. "One of our units spotted two terrorists planting a bomb and the Air Force struck them," a military source said. One of the Palestinians later died of his injuries. Also Sunday evening, an IDF soldier was lightly hurt in the camp when an antitank missile struck the military vehicle in which he was traveling.

A 39-year-old Palestinian man was killed Sunday morning and eight others were seriously wounded in an IAF missile strike targeting a house in a Hamas stronghold in the camp, witnesses and rescue workers said. The target of the strike was a home near the Kholfa Mosque.

Also Sunday, a Palestinian gunman died of wounds previously sustained in the IDF's massive offensive in northern Gaza, Palestinian officials said.

Eleven Palestinians, among them a nine-year-old girl, were killed in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, including seven on Saturday. One of the Palestinians killed was a greenhouse worker who was hit by Palestinian sniper fire.