Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior;
Major General Dan Harel, Head of IDF Operations Branch;
Colonel Miri Eisin, of the IDF Intelligence Corps National Media Center, Jerusalem,
April 7, 2002
Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior: I would like to share a basis about what I feel about the action and how it is developing. I think it is very important to make one thing clear. We’re talking in many senses about two different actions, two different wars. One is the war which Israel is waging against the bases of terror – the crushing of terror, the crushing of the incitement, either the nationalist or the religious philosophy which has led to the fundamentalism and which has led to the situation we are in now. I sincerely believe that this is a justified war, that this is something we had to do, and we have to do, and we have to expedite
it. It is not easy to finish it off, and we would like very much to accommodate, of course, the legitimate interests and wishes of President Bush in this connection.
The situation is such that we are fighting against an apparatus of terror which is acting behind a wall of civilians, and that is making the situation on the ground much more difficult, because we do not want to hit anybody innocent. We know that there is enough suffering amongst the civilian population as it is. We do not believe in any way in indiscriminate killing, we will not do it, and therefore we’re trying to get those who have created this terror network, this incitement network – we’re trying to get to them and it is difficult, because of the wall of civilians, behind which the terrorists are hiding.
That’s one war. There is another kind of war, and I want to stress that is not the war that we’re having. We’re not waging a war against the Palestinian population, we’re also not waging a war against the Palestinian Authority. That is not the target of this war – not the Palestinian population, nor the Palestinian desire for political independence – and there is no intention whatsoever to crush or to fight against that desire, which is a legitimate desire. I hope that the results of this brings some kind of political planning, and which will lead us to a final status situation in which we can live in two states next to each other in friendship. This is the basis, and I want to be very strong and clear about it.
There has not been any time in history, any precedent to this kind of strategy of suicide terrorism with the kind of incitement that we’re talking about – an incitement which unfortunately has gone on parallel with the whole peace process, an incitement which has led to the situation we have today.
I want to touch on a couple of specific things which have been dealt with over the last couple of days, and I think it is important to mention them. One is the situation in Bethlehem. I’m not only speaking as a deputy minister, but also as a rabbi, who feels very strongly about the whole issue of holy places, and the holiness of that place, and also accepts the concept of asylum in holy places as a tradition for many places and religions, which we also respect. I want say that those who broke with that concept were the murderers and gangsters and others, who went in, in spite of all rules, who broke the locks, and we now have witnesses to this. The Holy Land custodian which is responsible from the Vatican to take care of the holy places, have also given a very clear message about this, that they went in without any permission and they went in with force, and doing the one thing which goes against the whole concept of asylum – that is bringing in all the weapons, with them into the churches. We’re trying to solve this situation through negotiations in a tactical manner. We will not in any way permit any site holy to any religion here to be harmed.
I’ve been in contact with the heads of the churches here, and other places in the world, and tomorrow we’ll have a meeting with all the heads of churches with myself and Deputy Minister of Defense, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, who has been authorized to deal with this matter on the political level with myself. We’ll be meeting with all the church leaders tomorrow to see if we can together make some progress and solve the situation. Under no circumstance will we harm the sanctity of the holy places, and also not harm the sanctity of human lives, which is of course not less important.
Another situation which we have had, and I just come now from a meeting with the Director General of the International Red Cross, who is visiting here and who was just visiting with me, and we went through some of the issues which the International Red Cross has had, about difficult situations over the last days. I think that we’ve solved some of the situations, to let the Red Cross carry out its work, which it has been able to do. This is our obligation a hundred percent to follow in every detail of the Geneva Convention, and our responsibility to this is absolute. There have been complaints, among other things, of three ambulances in Tulkarm which were destroyed when the tanks went in, and the IDF has decided now that it will buy new ambulances for the Palestinian Red Crescent in place of these three ambulances. We’re trying to solve all the other outstanding issues we have with the Red Cross, so they can do their work under not so easy circumstances.
I need to touch on one other thing. The same kind of blind fundamentalism, which has created the unprecedented terrorism which we’ve had now, is also the same kind of hatred and incitement and fundamentalism which has now created a wave of anti-semitism in most of the world and especially in Europe. Unfortunately there are new incidents every day, including today. Synagogues and schools are being burnt. Fortunately we had the children now on Passover vacation over the past few weeks, so kids didn’t get hurt. But to attack Jewish schools and synagogues comes from the same kind of inspiration of blind fundamentalism, which leaves no room for anybody else. And if this is permitted to spread, it will not only endanger Israel and the Jewish people, but it is endangering the fundamentals of decency and democracy.
Therefore we cannot let this continue. We are in close contact with all relevant governments. There have been strong statements from the governments of France and Belgium, which are two of the countries that have been most hurt by this new wave of fundamentalist terror. We know that this kind of incitement begins with words, it never ends with words. Auschwitz did not begin in Auschwitz. This is not Auschwitz we’re talking about, but we know the effect of words. We know what it leads to. It leads to actions, then it comes to buildings, then it comes to human beings and also the kind of messages which are being spread now in demonstrations in some of the cities of Europe, again saying that we are Nazis, or saying that we are Hitler – all these expressions of hatred.
This is the delegitimization of the State of Israel, which is really the new anti-semitism. Where the old anti-semitism wanted the word as "Judenrein", which means clean of all Jews, the new anti-semitism talks about the world as "Judenstatrein" which means clean of the Jewish state, clean from the identity of the Jewish people and the Zionist identity. This is part of the overall fight, which we’re fighting, which is not only the fight of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, but the fight for the future of decency and democracy.
Therefore, as long as the government continues this fight, and we’ll try to expedite it as soon as possible, we’re not going to do it with hesitation. We’ll try to finish it off as soon as possible. It is complicated because it lakes longer to complete when you’re working under such difficult circumstances, which is also what Prime Minister Sharon explained yesterday night in a very very good conversation, he had with President Bush. We will expedite the completion of the operation as soon as possible, because we’re not fighting the Palestinians people nor the Palestinian wish for political independence. We’re fighting to crack down on the terror network and the network of incitement, which has created the situation we are in now.
Major General Dan Harel, Head of the Operations Branch of the IDF: On March 28th, after a series of terror attacks within Israel’s cities and streets, that cost us lots of lives – 128 casualties, civilian casualties to be precise – we initiated the operation "Defensive Shield". Its goal is to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure within the territories, meaning arrest terrorists, capture and confiscate weapons, and dismantle terrorist manufacturing places. I want to give you an update of the situation right now in the field. I’ll go from north to south.
In Jenin there is heavy fighting between a group of about a hundred terrorists and armed men, led by the top of the Islamic Jihad group in Jenin, fighting our soldiers for the third day in the Jenin refugee camp. The rest of the city is under control. In fact the curfew was lifted this afternoon, and the people of Jenin can go out and buy their groceries, and do whatever they want. The refugee camp which is on the side, isolated from the city, is being kept as it is, and we are letting the population in Jenin go about their business.
In Kalkilya and Tulkarm the situation is calm, the cities are under control. We are working in the area looking for terrorists. From every one we apprehend and question we get more information, and we can then go further. We now hold hundreds of terrorists that we apprehended, and we have them under control.
In Nablus, most of the city is under control. The fighting area is in the Casbah (market) there they are led by the Hamas top men that are in Nablus. There is fierce fighting within the Casbah. Our forces are progressing very carefully. We have advanced very well since this morning, and we hope that the area of the Casbah, except for the very center of the Casbah, will be captured by evening. From time to time, as in Jenin and in all other places, we stop the fighting to enable the terrorists to surrender, some of them do, and we arrest them. If they are innocent, we let them go, and some of them are kept for further questioning.
In Ramallah, the city is under control. We perform routine searches, based on the latest intelligence derived from the interrogations. We’ve discovered a lot of arms. The city is basically calm. We lift the curfew daily for several hours so people can leave their homes and go about their business.
In the Bethlehem area, the city is under control. The main point of interest is within Church of Nativity, where approximately 200 certified terrorists and armed men, bust into the Church of Nativity and they are holding several priests and nuns hostage within the compound. We are surrounding the compound, and we are trying to convince them to release the priests and nuns, and apprehend the terrorists.
This is what is going on in the West Bank. We do not fighting with the population, and we have very few casualties among the civilian population. We do not fight against the security force members of the Palestinian Authority. In fact, in every city we entered we conveyed to them not to fight us and stay in their homes or offices, and they did so in most places. We are fighting the terrorists of the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad fundamentalists and the Tanzim organizations. Each of these organizations was pronounced a "terror organization" by the United States. It is taking time because the terror infrastructure is somewhat fluid. It is not like a state infrastructure, which you can attack, capture and finish the problem. We have to go after people who hide in the hills, in the cities, in houses of the Casbah or the refugee camps or underground. We go after them based on intelligence and apprehend them. So it takes time.
Yet we have had several successes in this campaign against terror. We’ve arrested approximately 2000 people. So far we released approximately 600-700 men, some of them members of the Palestinian security forces who had nothing to do with terror, and the others civilians that we apprehended during the campaign. Of the approximately 1300 men that we are keeping in custody, about 600 have proven connections with terror organizations, of them about 60 to 70 major terrorists who were behind or committed terrorist actions within Israel and the territories, murdering hundreds of civilians. We discovered about ten explosives laboratories throughout the cities, some of them with explosives and suicide bomber belts. In some of them we found barrels full of home-made explosives, TATP it is called; some of them were found within the Palestinian installations. We also found heavy arms in use by the Palestinian Authority. We found dozens of RPG anti-tank missiles, heavy machine guns and mortars. We confiscated all these arms and also approximately 2,500small arms, and so on and so on.
This is besides the fact that after a series of devastating terror attacks that took place just last week – the last one was in Haifa – in which entire families were murdered, the terrorist are right now dealing with themselves, occupied by the need to run from our forces, which is the reason that our intelligence warnings on terror attacks have dropped drastically. We sustained several casualties in the campaign so far. We sustained so far 12 casualties, and about 43 wounded.
The Palestinians sustained about 200 casualties – almost all of them died holding a rifle or a suicide bomber belt around his waist. For instance: Yesterday we lifted the curfew in Jenin and demanded that the terrorist surrender. People came out, mostly women and children, and we let them go as they pleased. A group of five young men appeared and started to make their way down to the IDF roadblock. The soldiers called to them to stop. They refused, the soldiers once more told them to stop, and they continued toward the roadblock. The soldiers fired warning shots into the air, and then fired upon the group. One of the young man exploded, killing the two men closest to him, while the remaining two were slightly wounded. They are under arrest right now. This campaign takes time and we are progressing very cautiously.
It is very cynical on the part of the terrorists to act from within the most sensitive places that they could find in the territories. The Casbah and the refugee camps house lots of inhabitants, innocent people. This is the reason why we are fighting from house to house, using small and very precise arms. We do not make use of air support, we do not utilize our cannons. This is the reason the campaign takes time, and it is costing us a lot of casualties.
We are determined to do two things: Firstly, we fight according to the moral standards we believe in. Secondly, we are determined to apprehend each and every one of the terrorists that are present in the area.
In the north we are under heavy attacks by the Hizbullah, which is a Shi’ite fundamentalist organization, and by the Palestinian terror organizations, namely the Tanzim or Fatah and the Palestinian Popular Front terrorists. We are being attacked after we withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000. We redeployed behind an internationally recognized border, according to UN Security Council Resolution 425, and were supposed to be defended by the high wall of international legitimacy. It didn’t happen. In the last seven or eight days we suffered about 10 to 15 attacks on our strongholds along the border, and on civilian villages and installations. In one of the attacks yesterday evening, 5 children from the village of Ghajar, all of them Muslim children, were wounded by anti-tank shells launched from the other side of the border. We retaliated for this attack with a local response. We will know how to handle those who are behind these attacks, namely Hizbullah, and Lebanon first of all, who has the responsibility over the area, and Syria that stands behind it.
Colonel Miri Eisin, of the Intelligence Corps of the IDF: Over the last ten days we’ve had over ten unprovoked attacks on Israel’s northern territory, along the internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon. These attacks are carried out by several different terror organizations like Hizbullah and Palestinian terror organizations. I’d like to talk about the attacks themselves, who’s initiating them, and mainly about the Hizbullah and who Hizbullah backs. As the general mentioned before we’re talking about Hizbullah itself, which lies close to the border.
In May 2000, Israel exited unilaterally from Lebanese territory. The border itself is one of the only borders we can talk about lately, which is an internationally recognized border. Every single dot along the line was approved and endorsed by the present Secretary General of the United Nations. Along that internationally recognized border between two states, Israel and Lebanon, Hizbullah and Palestinian groups – who when they operate in that area, can only operate with Hizbullah’s approval – Hizbullah deployed itself along the northern border. The Lebanese army and the Lebanese government did nothing to stop the deployment of Hizbullah along that border, and from that border itself, we’ve had a few singular attacks over the last two years.
In the last ten days, with what’s going on within the territories, we’re talking about ten unprovoked attacks, some of them along our outposts, some of them in civilian areas, done with missiles and mortars. They have been firing at Israeli aircraft that have been over sovereign Israeli territory – non recoil guns being fired into an Alawite village. The village of Ghajar is a village of Lebanese that wanted to be a part of Israel. As part of the signing of 425, when we agreed to the international border, that village is split into two. The border goes directly through the village, even though the villagers wanted to be a part of Israel. Because Israel, to comply with every dot on that border, agreed to have the village cut into two. They are now firing directly into the village itself.
The Lebanese and the Lebanese army, in a very cynical matter, over the last few days, have gone down south and stopped the Palestinians, as if the provocations are committed only by the Palestinians groups in the south. We are talking about things that are initiated by Hizbullah. Hizbullah has put itself to be the head of the Jihad against Israel. Hizbullah says, and go read it, on their site, they say it out loud and clear, "The end of the Jihad is in Jerusalem, and when the Jews are in the sea." The Palestinians that operate in that area are working with Hizbullah’s agreement. The Lebanese army, which was never deployed down south, was sent down now, and is only dealing with the Palestinians, nothing against the Hizbullah. Hizbullah, I remind you, is inspired, backed, funded by the Iranians. All of this with the Syrians sitting by as if it has nothing to do with Syria. The Hizbullah attacks from south Lebanon – we don’t think it’s the end of the attacks. We think that they are provoking us and will continue to do so. They see themselves as the ones who lead the Jihad against Israel, as the ones who should lead the Palestinians. They continue to see their attacks as part of the Jihad until the Jews drown in the sea, the sea where the Jews belong, backed by the Syrians, funded by the Iranians, with the Lebanese doing absolutely nothing to stop them.
Questions and Anwers:
Q: I want to ask the General whether the situation in Bethlehem is not as secure as say the situation in Ramallah, and therefore the city of Bethlehem is still under curfew for the sixth straight day. One Palestinian resident told me that this was unfair and unjust collective punishment
Maj.Gen Harel: We took control of Bethlehem in fierce fighting with the Palestinians, led by Hamas, Tanzim and the Islamic Jihad organization members all together. We are operating now inside the city, in certain specific neighborhoods, in order to find and apprehend terrorists. We found one or two labs within the city, and of course we have this hostage situation in the Church of the Nativity. We will lift the curfew as soon as we are able to. We are making sure that there is a supply of groceries, water supply into the city, and we will lift the curfew as soon as possible, as soon as the city is secured, as we did in Jenin today and as we did in Ramallah several days ago, and in Kalkilya and Tulkarm. I hope that we will be able to lift the curfew in Bethlehem as soon as possible.
Q: Could you give us some details regarding the lessons that the military is experiencing in the urban warfare campaign, particularly what you just said that you are not using air assets, and I’m wondering if that includes unmanned vehicles.
Maj.Gen Harel: First of all, we have to remember the surroundings where the fighting is taking place. The terrorists are dragging us into a place where they think they have a relative advantage, namely densely populated areas, refugee camps with its small houses and their proximity to each other, and the misuse of the local population there as a human shield. This dictates the way we fight.
As I said before, we do not make use of air support, we do not make use of our medium artillery or cannons or anything like that. What we do is we advance very slowly. Most our combat soldiers are from the infantry, advancing from house to house, engaging in combat over each house, very thoroughly. We use UAV’s and ground observatories from high places, high buildings or mountains like around Nablus, so we can guide the forces to the main spots of resistance. We are advancing very slowly, because the terrorists make use of explosive charges, inside the houses and in the streets. We’re talking about hundreds. In the Jenin refugee camp there were approximately 230 roadside bombs that the forces have counted so far.
In the Nablus area they dug holes in the pavement. They placed there approximately 100 kilograms of explosive charges, and then they repaved the road. An armored vehicle or a group of soldiers who would pass above these hidden bombs would be hurt. We’re using tanks on the flanks in these areas, we almost do not use heavy arms, but we do utilize small machine guns, because they are mounted on the sides, and they fire more accurately, so one can pinpoint the bullets.
I would like to show you a short movie of one such explosive charge that was found close to the Church of the Nativity. This is a cynical use of the Bethlehem water system. The manhole has a underground connection to the compound of the Church of the Nativity. The explosive charge was hidden below the steel cover of the manhole. They were waiting for us to come across the area, in order to set it off as our soldiers would be right above it. They don’t care about the damage to the water system of the Church of the Nativity. This is an authentic example of how they misuse the Church compound. This very same also goes in the other cities. You can see for yourself how close to the Church of the Nativity this is. You can see the priest. We led some of the priests out without the knowledge of the terrorists inside the Church of Nativity. We contacted them and helped them to leave through one of the side doors of the compound. The priest told us that approximately 200 armed men burst in with their arms and took control of the Church of the Nativity and gathered all the priests and nuns up into one room. They entered the basilica area and broke a window to have a better shooting position. As far as we know for now, they booby-trapped all the doors into the Church of Nativity with explosive charges to prevent us from breaking in to rescue the hostages. The compound is quite big, which is why we were able to rescue several priests and nuns. The hostage situation inside is a very delicate situation.
Q: Are the documents that you are taking away or discovering in the Authority, the offices, are you seeing any links between the Palestinian Authority or satellite organizations and Al Qaida, and are you discovering any evidence of funding from the outside, whether from the Iraqis or Saudi Arabians? And, in your raids on production facilities, are you discovering any evidence of either research or development or production of weapons of mass destruction?
Col. Eisin: First I’d like to address the issue of the documents that we’ve been finding. Some of you have read the copies of the documents that we have been distributing. We’re still finding more, and we’ll keep you updated. We, too, are looking about the issue of Al Qaida. To date, we have not found any such connections, and are aware that that would be of great interest for everybody in the world. When we went into Arafat’s compound, we went into both Tirawi’s office, who is the head of the general intelligence, and into Fuad Shoubaki’s office, who is the personal financial adviser. We are looking for those things there. We do not have any documents like that to date. I suppose the Palestinians will say: no problem, just fabricate them, and bring them in tomorrow. We do our job thoroughly, we go through them, we look and we’ll see what we can find. I don’t think that we will find such things.
About the outside funding. We are definitely seeing a lot of outside funding. Terror cost money, it is not something you can do without the funding. But what we’ve been finding and what we’ve been showing is mostly the inner funding – the direct funding from Yasser Arafat personally through Marwan Barghouti, the head of the Tanzim, and through the different heavy terrorists within. At the moment we found evidence for Bethlehem and Tulkarm – these are documents that you have seen, read about today in the New York Times – and within that funding is direct funding for terrorists: paying for guns, paying for arms. Here I’ll address your second question about the R&D. When we say R&D in weapons of mass destruction, what we see more at this stage is interest. We have to differentiate in weapons of mass destruction between weapons that you can make locally (unhappily), even chemical weapons and biological weapons. When we say weapons of mass destruction, and most people think of nuclear weapons, we’re not talking about that in our area. Certainly we have seen the interest in R&D of both chemical and biological weapons, and these are one of the things that we are looking for in labs and other components that can be used in such places.
Q: I would like to know how you respond to the criticism from the Vatican towards Israel about what is happening in the Church of Nativity?
Dep FM Melchior: We are in contact with the Vatican. As you probably know I visited there recently with the Pope and I am in close contact with the Vatican. We understand the concerns of the Vatican, we have the same concerns, and we agree that we need to resolve the situation as soon as possible but again to preserve the holy place, and in order to preserve the human lives. We expect also fairness from the Vatican in this connection. We’re glad that it was confirmed by the Vatican’s representatives here, the Custodian of the Holy Land, that the people who are responsible for the situation that was created there are the terrorists who forced their way into the Church of the Nativity.
I must say that this is a gross desecration – this whole situation of terrorism is a desecration of the belief in God and the belief of God respecting human life. Man was created in the image of God not in order to blow each other up, and I think we have a good dialog now with the Vatican. We’re also in contact with their representatives here in Jerusalem as we are with the heads of the churches. As I said before, we will begin these negotiations tomorrow in order to see if they can play a role in solving the situation in Bethlehem. We do not want any kind of bloodshed there.
Q: A few days ago the Italian newspaper Observatore published an editorial that was very critical of Israel, accusing Israel of war extermination. How do you react to that?
Dep FM Melchior: I know that there have been some editorials there that have been very problematic. I have discussed it also. Some of these editorials, including the one you mentioned, the leading political sources in the Vatican do not accept this in any way, and I will take their word for this.
Q: Can you respond to the gunman’s claim this morning that you’re not allowing Red Crescent ambulances to get the wounded and sick people out of Jenin?
Maj.Gen. Harel: We are letting the Red Crescent and the Red Cross work within the areas of the West Bank. We do not allow them to enter a fighting area, where they might get hurt. We issued several breaks in the fighting in the Jenin area that you mentioned in your question. When we allowed on the citizens to leave their homes, they had two hours of no curfew. We wanted them to make use of the ambulances to transport the injured to hospital, and to remove the dead. They didn’t want to have anything to do with us, they refused our offer. The terrorists and the armed men in the Jenin refugee camp refused to talk to us, they just want to fight us, therefore we could not let the ambulances in.
This happened yesterday. we allowed everyone who wanted to leave out of the refugee camp. Most of the people who made use of this were innocent civilians who got stuck in the middle of the fighting arena without wanting so. We were there, we helped them leave, we fed them. There will be no ambulances permitted to enter fighting areas while the fighting is taking place.
Q: President Bush has urged Israel to cease the fighting and pull out in a short time. I am interested to know whether either the Americans or the Israelis, in the dialog that has continued in the last few days, insisted or acknowledged any linkage between the President’s demands on Israel and the President’s demands on Yasser Arafat. In other words, is the American demand for an Israeli pullout conditioned on a cease-fire, which will then have to be negotiated, and would include Mr. Arafat fulfilling or giving certain undertakings?
Dep FM Melchior: You’re absolutely right that President Bush talked about two issues. There was a very clear demand that has been put to Arafat from the beginning. I also want to be clear about this demand. It is really quite unbelievable that Arafat has not been willing to comply with this demand. The President is asking from Israel to act, but he’s asking from Arafat to make a speech, at least as a beginning. Basically, if you look at the Zinni demands in the compromise proposals which led to the present situation, which were accepted by Israel but grossly and flatly refused by the Palestinian side and by Arafat himself, the demand of Arafat was mostly a commitment to stop the terrorism and the incitement.
I also would like to say that we see one hundred percent eye to eye with President Bush when it comes to this situation. I of course do not speak for President Bush, but I really think that he very much understands our need to finish this, so that we don’t go back to the situation we were in before this action started. We we will not permit this to happen.
You know, we have now, we should always be careful saying, without being superstitious, we had now a week without terror, which shows that one can crack down on terror if one wants to. It is a very clear decision here that we can’t have a situation where we’re back at square one and when what the army has done, the important job of cracking down on the terror network that is not permitted to be finalized. At the same time, we also realize the American interests and needs in the region are not only for Israel’s security, which is obvious and to which they have a very clear commitment, but also other needs in the region, and that there is a balance in this.
There is no direct linkage, at least what I understood, in what President Bush said, and we don’t understand it as such. We are very much looking forward to host the Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, to the region. He’ll arrive here later this week on Friday. We hope that this will bring us into the political view and make it possible to fulfill all of President Bush’s requests, because we really have the same interests, which are to fight terrorism, to fight those who are providing a haven to the terror and fundamentalism which is threatening to destroy us, and at the same time to have a political opportunity so that the Palestinians can fulfill their legitimate requests, not by way of terror, but by way of negotiations.
Q: If, as many commentators like us believe will happen, by the end of this week, Israel does start to pull out from certain places, if in a fairly short time Israel will comply with President Bush’s demands, or at least Israel will not get the full week eight weeks that general Mofaz would like, will the army be able to assure the people of Israel that at least for some time, weeks, months at the very least, the campaign of the suicide bombs and other campaigns in Israel, will cease?
Maj.Gen. Harel: If the time runs out by the end of this week, we won’t be able to finish the job. We are doing a very important job. Right now there is a message on my pager that lets me know that they discovered three explosives labs in the Casbah of Jenin, and we blew them up, so it shows you that every minute that passes, we discover more and more terror infrastructure.
Now I’ll give you a paradox. There was e series of devastating terror acts in Israel, nobody doubts it. It cost the lives of entire families. There was a high legitimacy for us to invade the territories and fight terror. We went in and, terror went down because of that. Legitimacy is evaporating, and now everybody wants us to leave the territories. If we do so too soon, then another series of devastating attacks will hit Israel’s cities and streets, and once again we’ll invade the territories. Paradoxically, if we stay in and fight the terrorists infrastructure, and get higher achievements, then maybe we could rest a little bit from these terror attacks. So it’s on the table, everybody knows it, and I hope that our soldiers will succeed in their fight against terror.
Q: General, our understanding, at least last night, was that because the army encountered much tougher resistance in Nablus and Jenin, basically the offensive was halted on the outskirts of the refugee camps and on the outskirts of the Casbah in all cities. Are you telling us now that the army has almost overrun the Casbah and the refugee camps. Secondly General Kitrey, the army spokesman, said this morning that the operation in Jenin and Nablus is nearing its end. Does that mean that army is prepared to give up because of the pressure of time and of casualties, and give up on the terrorists who are inside these areas? And finally you said that you don’t use air support. We get reports from the Palestinians that helicopters have been used.
Maj.Gen. Harel: First of all, in Nablus we went along with three planned ways of operation. We took over the outskirts of the Casbah and last night we went in, and the advance of the forces is going very well. We hope that tonight we will finish almost the whole Casbah, But the heart of the Casbah, which we think will contain the highest concentration of terrorists, will be conquered tomorrow. This is the plan. It might go faster or slower, but this is the basic plan.
As for the Jenin refugee camp, we encountered there very strong resistance, but we are determined to finish the job, go in and get all the terrorists out. Again, they can give themselves up – all they have to do is lay down their arms, and raise their hands up, and then we will arrest them. It is not going very well for the Palestinian side. How do I know? They are changing their story from tough resistance in the Jenin area refugee camp to a slaughter story like Sabra and Shatilla. And they are calling now for a slaughter. This shows that they are fabricating stories to match their situation on the ground and this proves that we’re doing very well.
About air support: Yes, we are using helicopters, Israeli missiles. These are target guided weapons. When I said air support, I meant jet support and bombers. We are not using them because of the civilian population in the places we fight.
Q: Did you say that if you had to finish this week that won’t be enough time? And if that is what you said, what is the new time limit for this operation?
Maj.Gen. Harel: What I said was that it is going to take time. It is a big territory, a lot of terrorists. General Mofaz was referring to four weeks and then another four weeks. We do obey the political level, of course, and we will do whatever they tell us to do. They evaluate the international political situation and they have wider interests and alternatives they have to use. We operate is if we have all the time we need to perform our job, and when they stop us, then we’ll stop and redeploy as they will tell us. Up to that point we will fight terror and arrest terrorists.
The security situation is of course the most important of our considerations. We’ll have to see that in the overall picture and there are many interest which are important to accommodate, but first of all security for our citizens. We cannot go back to a situation, which we were before, and we cannot go back to a situation where we have to go in again in another four weeks because we have another fifty terrorists.
Q: There is some speculation that these operations will have to cease or at least be put on hold when Secretary Powell visits. What does this mean for your overall goal and timetable?
Maj.Gen. Harel: I think that we answered that already. Of course we want to accommodate and we understand very well the wishes of the international community which is the same wish as we have. We want to finish this, we want to get this over with. We have no interest in staying there one second longer than necessary. This is not an occupation of the territories. We are there for a crackdown on the infrastructure of the terror. This is what we are doing, while taking all necessary precautions in order to do this in the best possible way, taking into consideration all the different problems, including of course the visit of Secretary Powell.