' "TOTAL WAR" ENGULFS MIDDLE EAST AS "ROAD MAP" TORN TO SHREDS - 13 JUNE 2003'
World Events of Significance
'Total War' Engulfs Middle East As Road Map Is Torn To Shreds
Chris McGreal in Gaza City
Friday June 13, 2003
Israel declared total war on Hamas yesterday, with the Islamic resistance movement responding by ordering all its fighters to immediately mobilise and "blow up the Zionist entity".
The threat of escalation in an already bloody week for Palestinians and Israelis alike came hours before the army launched its fifth helicopter missile strike since Tuesday, killing a Hamas activist and six civilians. Among the dead were the man's wife and two- year-old daughter.
It brought to 35 the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in violence over the past two days alone.
The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, announced plans for a meeting of other members of the quartet backing the US-led road map to a Palestinian state - Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - in an attempt to save the process.
The talks will probably take place in Jordan, the scene of last week's summit between President George Bush, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, which briefly revived hopes that conflict might give way to negotiation.
But they are unlikely to happen for at least 10 days, and a lot more blood is likely to be spilled before then.
Israel's defence minister, General Shaul Mofaz, yesterday ordered his forces to "use everything they have" against Hamas following Wednesday's suicide bombing on a Jerus-alem bus, which claimed 17 lives.
That attack came in retaliation for the Israeli army's botched attempt to assassinate Hamas's political leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. That, in turn, was prompted by the killing of five Israeli soldiers to demonstrate Hamas's opposition to concessions made by the new Palestinian leadership at the Aqaba summit, including declaring an end to the intifada.
Hours after Gen Mofaz's order, Hamas responded with its own escalation. "We call on all military cells to act immediately and act like an earthquake to blow up the Zionist entity and tear it to pieces," Hamas said in a statement.
"The Jerusalem attack is the beginning of a new series of revenge attacks - in which we will target every Zionist occupying our land." It warned foreigners to leave Israel for their own safety.
The British government announced yesterday it is to crack down on organisations in Britain raising funds for Hamas. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is discussing with the US ways to squeeze countries and individuals funding Hamas, especially wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia who provide the bulk of the money, channelled through Damascus to Gaza and the West Bank. He is also to discuss a clampdown with other European Union countries. Although Hamas is a proscribed organisation in Britain, the government has been holding back over the last year to see whether the Islamist organisation would sign up to a ceasefire.
Mr Straw seemed to concede yesterday that this approach had failed, saying the chance of a ceasefire from Hamas was limited.
"One of the things that has to come out of this appalling outrage is a greater determination by the international community to clamp down on funding and support for organisations like Hamas," he said.
At an emergency Israeli cabinet meeting, Mr Sharon vowed to stick with the road map but derided Palestinian leaders as "cry-babies who let terror run rampant" and then complained when Israel retaliated against attacks. Mr Sharon described Mr Abbas as a "chick without feathers".
"We have to help him fight terror until his feathers grow," he said. "The state of Israel will continue to pursue the Palestinian terror organisations and their leaders to the bitter end."
But a Palestinian cabinet minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, dismissed Mr Sharon's comments as duplicitous.
"His aim is to discredit the Palestinian government and to assassinate his real enemy, which is the road map," he said.
Mr Abbas said he would renew efforts to persuade Hamas to agree to a ceasefire, but Palestinian sources said the chances of fresh talks in the short term were dim.
The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, who unusually described the Jerusalem bus bombing as "terrorism", called on the US, Europeans and United Nations to intervene to halt the escalation. "We are in need of strong pressure to stop this aggression against our people," he said.
The latest Israeli assault on Gaza City came when helicopters fired a barrage of rockets into a car, killing a senior Hamas activist, Yasser Taha, his family and four other people. Mr Taha was an aide to another prominent activist, Mohammed Deif, who was assassinated last year. About 40 people were wounded.
Mussallam Amaireh, a guard at a neighbouring mosque, said the car was engulfed in flames. "It was so terrible to see. People were burning in there," he said.
Furious Palestinians waved one of the dead infant's shoes and her feeding bottle, and screamed abuse about Mr Sharon.
"If Sharon wants blood, we are prepared to shed ours to spill his," shouted an enraged young man called Yusuf.
The car was hit close to a cemetery where a few hours earlier funerals were held for 11 people killed in the previous day's Israeli missile strikes.
Thousands of Palestinians marched through Gaza's streets chanting "bombardment for bombardment and blood for blood" ahead of the funerals.
But not everyone was enthusiastic about an escalation in the confrontation.
"We have our children to consider," said Mada Jabali, a middle-aged woman with four children in tow.
"We don't want them to go on living under occupation but we do want them to live.
There have been too
many martyrs and too many of them have been children. We don't want
then read the
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