Thursday, October 30, 2003

FILE THIS UNDER "IT WAS ABOUT TIME:" At least there are some clear-thinking people left in Jerusalem.

Israel's army commander was on a collision course with Ariel Sharon yesterday after he attacked the prime minister's hardline security policies for damaging "our strategic interests". Lt-Gen Moshe Ya'alon, the chief of staff, gave a detailed critique of every aspect of Mr Sharon's approach to the Palestinians. He called for the easing of travel restrictions in the West Bank and criticised the government's public debate on the future of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

Gen Ya'alon's criticisms, delivered in a briefing to three Israeli newspapers, were all the more surprising because of his hawkish reputation. At the height of the intifada last year he argued for punitive measures to "sear into the Palestinian consciousness" that Israel was invincible. Yet Gen Ya'alon's latest words betray deep unease in the security establishment over Israel's failure to end the three-year uprising.

Yesterday he told Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister, that he was responsible for critical remarks attributed to "army officials" that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, the biggest-selling Israeli daily. Gen Ya'alon refused to retract any of his words, despite reports that Mr Sharon was "furious". The general told the newspaper that Israel's policies in the occupied territories were "operating contrary to our strategic interests".

Restrictions imposed on the West Bank prevent Palestinians from moving between cities or using the main road network and 482 military checkpoints divide the West Bank into 300 clusters.

Gen Ya'alon said these restrictions were increasing hatred of Israel and encouraging terrorism. He wanted them lifted, but the defence minister had vetoed anything more than minor adjustments. Gen Ya'alon said the Gaza Strip, which is fenced off from Israel, and Palestinian towns such as Bethlehem and Jericho, where few terrorist attacks are organised, should see most restrictions lifted. This proposal had also been blocked. "There is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, nor in Bethlehem and Jericho," said Gen Ya'alon. He voiced unease over the "security fence" which Israel is building to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers by sealing off the West Bank.
Noted without comment.

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