Analysis: Uneasy Pause in Violence in Middle East as Israeli Military Delays Expected Attack on Targets in Gaza Strip
Showdown Looms in Gaza
Weekend Edition Saturday: May 11, 2002
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
In the Middle East today, there is an uneasy pause in violence. The Israeli military has delayed an expected attack on targets in the Gaza Strip. For days now, the Israeli army has shown signs of preparing to strike in response to this week's bombing of a pool hall in suburban Tel Aviv that killed 15 Israelis. Hamas has claimed responsibility for that bombing and is based in Gaza. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Gaza.
Peter, thanks for being with us.
PETER KENYON reporting:
SIMON: Now you're seeing people there in Gaza stockpiling food, making preparations, girding themselves, in a sense?
KENYON: Yes, all of those things and more. There are mines placed strategically, usually in the evening, and then taken back in during the day as long as there is no incursion. There was an explosion last night along the beach. That source was never completely determined, but it seemed pretty clear it wasn't an Israeli ordnance, it was a Palestinian bomb either being tested or having gone off accidentally.
The mood here is a mixture of defiance and fatalism. The fighters I talked with said, `There's not going to be a standoff here, we're going to fight to the death.'
SIMON: Peter, I realize you're on the Gaza side of things right now, and I imagine it's difficult to get information on the other side, but what can you put together from where you are as to why the Israeli military is apparently delaying their strike?
KENYON: Well, people here are quite interested in the apparent division in the ranks of the Israeli military on just how to proceed in Gaza. We had one report last night from Israeli Television that the defense minister said he was postponing this action because of leaks to the media of the army's plans. There's other reports that generals are divided over how big a force to send in here, or whether to simply rely on air strikes and limited incursions to limit the loss of life.
SIMON: On the ground there, are there distinct military reasons as to the challenge that the Israeli military would confront?
KENYON: Absolutely. This is one of the most densely populated places on earth, about 1.2 million people packed into roughly 140 square miles. The refugee camps here are much larger than the one in Jenin, for example, in the West Bank, where there was such heavy fighting a few weeks ago. There is the strong possibility of heavy civilian casualties if a full-scale assault were launched in these cramped quarters.
SIMON: Yeah. And do you have any indication that Israel is blanching at that, that there's international pressure that is making them pause for the moment and decide if this is an action they really want to undertake?
KENYON: The responses are to that, yes and no. Yes, they are carefully considering the impact of civilian casualties and how that would look in the world community. Israel is officially denying any overt pressure from the United States or other international governments. But clearly, there have been some tentative moves back towards the negotiating table, and there's a lot of concern about how this military invasion, if it happens, will affect those prospects. There has been some violence continuing in Beersheba yesterday, an explosion from Palestinians that wounded a few Israelis; and Israeli troops yesterday blew up the home of a Hamas suicide bomber in Tulkarem. So there are still operations going on.
SIMON: Peter, thanks very much.
KENYON: OK. Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking with us from Gaza.
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