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5/20/04 - RESTRAINT NEEDED IN GAZA - 2004-05-24

An Israeli military operation in Southern Gaza has resulted in the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp. Israeli officials say that this operation is to find and destroy tunnels used for weapons smuggling; to find and confiscate weapons arsenals; and to seek and detain individuals involved in attacks on Israelis.

Since the operation began, dozens of Palestinians have been killed and many are displaced. Israeli military officials acknowledged that in a May 19th incident, a helicopter and tank fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing at least eight Palestinians, including children. Israel issued a statement expressing “deep regret” for what it called a “tragic event.”

A statement released by the White House says that while the U.S. believes “that Israel has the defend itself and its citizens, [the U.S. does] not see that [Israel’s] operation in Gaza in the last few days serves the purposes of peace and security.” President George W. Bush says that he will “continue to urge restraint”:

“It is essential that people respect innocent life, in order for us to achieve peace.... I will continue to speak out about the need for all parties to respect innocent life in the Middle East.”

The events in Gaza show the wisdom of Israeli plans to disengage from Gaza and to replace the Israeli army there with a Palestinian security force. But for this to work, such a force must act to stop weapons smuggling and terrorism. As President Bush’s proposed “road map” for peace puts it, the Palestinian Authority must “declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.”

Meanwhile, says the White House statement, the U.S. will “consult immediately with the relevant parties, which include Israel, the Palestinians, and...Egypt, about effective ways to move forward against the smuggling of arms to Gaza.”