Israel's response to Tel Aviv terror won't interfere with U.S. plans for Iraq

Senior cabinet senior ministers met overnight to discuss Israel's response to Sunday's double suicide bombing attack in Tel Aviv in which 22 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. The cabinet decided to prevent Palestinian delegates from attending two separate conferences dealing with Palestinian reforms. IAF helicopters fired missiles at a suspected weapons factory in Gaza City but no major military operation is expected.

Palestinian delegates will not be allowed to attend a PLO central committee scheduled to take place in Ramallah on Thursday that was due to discuss a proposed Palestinian constitution which would reportedly include the appointment of a prime minister to serve under PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. Palestinians will also not be allowed to attend a planned London conference that was due to discuss reforms in the Palestinian Authority.

The cabinet also decided to shut down three Palestinian universities, considered to be hotbeds for Palestinian terrorism. Ra'anan Gissin, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said An Najah University in Nablus - the largest in the West Bank and a Hamas stronghold - would likely be one of those to be closed.

The army will impose stricter travel restrictions on Palestinian diplomats traveling through the West Bank, Gissin added.

The cabinet assigned blame for the Tel Aviv attack on Arafat. The Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade said two of its terrorists perpetrated the attack. "Arafat funds the al-Aqsa Brigade," a diplomatic source told Ha'aretz. "The organization is flesh of his flesh and he controls it... His responsibility is not just that he didn't do anything to stop terror attacks, but he is the supporter and funder."

Attending the cabinet meeting were Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom. According to media reports, Netanyahu called for Arafat's exile from the Palestinian territories, but sources close to Netanyahu told Army Radio afterwards that the subject did not come up in the meeting.

"President Bush said that leaders compromised by terror cannot be partners for peace," Netanyahu said in a press statement on Monday. "Legitimizing the sham reform efforts of Arafat's regime will, in effect, legitimize a Palestinian leadership compromised by terror. Not only has the PA failed to fight terrorism, Arafat's own Fatah and Tanzim forces proudly took credit for yesterday's savage attack, and for many other atrocities over the last two years."

IDF not expected to undertake unusual operations Security sources said the Israel Defense Forces would not undertake unusual or extreme military operations in the wake of the Tel Aviv attack so as not to interfere with American preparations for a possible strike against Iraq.

"With all our desire to punish Arafat, Israel also has an important interest to bring about the downfall of Saddam Hussein's evil regime," a diplomatic source told Maariv. The source said Israel's promises to the United States not to undertake extreme measures against the Palestinian Authority at this time would make it difficult for Israel to stage a proper response to the Tel Aviv attack.

The army is expected "to increase the pressure" on the Palestinians, security sources said. "Israel is constantly operating against terror, but it could be that this terror attack will lead to additional steps," the sources said, quoted in ynet.

Gissin hinted that the army would carry out more "pinpoint" operations to hunt down and kill terrorist leaders, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The IAF helicopter attack in Gaza targeted a suspected weapons factory in the Askula neighborhood in southern Gaza City. Israel Radio reported that four missiles were fired but Palestinian sources said that nine missiles were fired. The Palestinians said that a second building was also hit and that the blasts injured eight people and cut off electricity in Gaza City.

In addition, IDF forces operated in the Rafiah refugee camp at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. An armored column, accompanied by IAF attack helicopters, entered the camp, Israel Radio reported. Security forces arrested Islamic Jihad member Hassan Abu Armana, who is suspected of organizing the recent shooting attack at Kissufim junction which claimed the life of Rabbi Yitzhak Arama. The army also destroyed Armana's house.

Ellis Shuman Israelinsider

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