October 30, 2003
Israel's Chief of Staff Denounces Policies Against Palestinians
By GREG MYRE
ERUSALEM, Oct. 29 — Israel's top-ranking soldier said that current hard-line policies against the Palestinians were working against Israel's "strategic interest" and had contributed to the downfall of the previous Palestinian prime minister, Israeli news organizations reported on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was described as "furious" about the comments, attributed to Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, the military's chief of staff, Israeli television stations reported later in the day.
Several leading Israeli newspapers reported the controversial comments, attributing them to a senior military official. But during the day, Israeli reporters identified the source as General Yaalon, who made the remarks to Israeli journalists at a background briefing on Tuesday.
Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli columnist with the daily Yediot Ahronot, quoted "a military official" as saying comprehensive travel restrictions and curfews imposed on Palestinians were actually harming Israel's overall security.
"It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations," Mr. Barnea wrote, quoting the official.
General Yaalon also said that Israel should have eased punitive measures to bolster the fortunes of the former Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned on Sept. 6 after only four months on the job.
Mr. Abbas expressed frustration that Mr. Sharon never took concrete steps to convince Palestinians that the Middle East peace plan, initiated in June, would bring about any real improvements in their lives.
"There is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, nor in Bethlehem and Jericho," Mr. Barnea quoted the "military official" as saying. "In our tactical decisions, we are operating contrary to our strategic interest."
Mr. Sharon, a former general, has said that Palestinian violence must stop before political negotiations can begin, and he has supported tough military action since he came to power in March 2001.
In previous public statements, General Yaalon has supported strong military action.
After a Palestinian suicide bombing killed 21 people on Oct. 4 in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, the military barred all Palestinians from entering Israel and kept most Palestinians confined to their hometowns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel eased the restrictions a bit on Wednesday, permitting 4,000 Palestinian businessmen and workers to enter Israel. Before the violence began three years ago, more than 100,000 from the West Bank and Gaza commuted daily to Israel to work.
In violence on Wednesday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man and wounded another in Gaza near a fence that marks the boundary with Israel. The military said the men had planted a large bomb. Palestinians identified the dead man as a member of Islamic Jihad, a group that has carried out many attacks against Israeli targets.
In the northern West Bank, Israeli troops shot and killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy on Wednesday night during a confrontation in Nablus, Palestinian residents said. The military said troops fired when Palestinians began throwing rocks and firebombs at soldiers on patrol.
Also, Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli car, seriously wounding a man and slightly injuring his wife as they traveled near a West Bank settlement outside the Palestinian town of Jenin, the military said.