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Palestinian Militants Vow Revenge for Israeli Killing of 15

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Palestinian terrorists are vowing revenge for Sunday's Israeli raids on two refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, which left 15 Palestinians dead, including four children. Hospital sources said dozens of Palestinians were injured in the raids. A statement by Hamas said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would pay a heavy price for the raids on the al-Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined funeral processions late Sunday for those killed. In new violence Monday, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli troops near a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip. Palestinian witnesses said the boy was killed while working in his father's fields near the Morag settlement. The army said it is investigating the shooting.

Sunday's raids in Gaza were the bloodiest in over a year. Israeli troops, tanks and helicopters moved into the camps before dawn in what the military said was a pre-emptive strike against terrorist groups. Hours of fierce clashes followed between the soldiers and armed Palestinian militants. Children were also out in the streets, throwing stones at the Israeli tanks and several were killed.

Israeli army spokeswoman, Maj. Sharon Feingold told Israel Radio the children's deaths were regrettable. "Every loss of human life - innocent civilians killed - is a tragedy on both sides and should not be happening. The only person to blame here is the Palestinian leadership who've done absolutely nothing to stop these kinds of terror attacks from originating from within the heart of the civilian population."

Palestinian Authority adviser Nabil Abu Rdeineh denounced Sunday's raids and called for international intervention. "This policy is not going to lead anywhere apart from more violence and more instability and we urge the quartet and the Security Council to move quickly to stop this Israeli aggression for this aggression will lead for more violence in the whole region."

The Israeli military called the operation a success and said such raids would continue in order to root out the militant threat and have nothing to do with a possible future Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. Sharon has said Israel would evacuate most if not all of its settlements and pull out its troops from the Gaza Strip if peace talks with the Palestinians continue to go nowhere.

The recent upsurge in violence in Gaza is seen by some as an effort by both sides to gain the advantage prior to an Israeli withdrawal. The Israelis want to inflict as much damage on the militant groups as possible and keep them from claiming victory if Israel pulls out. The terrorists, on the other hand, want to be seen as having chased the Israelis out.

Mubarak Rejects Idea of Egyptian Security Role in Gaza

By Ha'aretz & Reuters

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has rejected the idea of an Egyptian security role in the Gaza strip, describing it as a trap that would lead to conflict with the Palestinians and possibly the Israelis.

"It's a trap set for us because we would find ourselves in a situation of confrontation with the Palestinians," he told the Paris newspaper Le Figaro in an interview published on Monday. "And, if there is a problem, we could even find ourselves in conflict with the Israelis."

Israeli security sources said last month that Israel had held talks with Egypt about ceding security control to the Egyptians over a corridor on the Egypt-Gaza border as part of a plan to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is expected to discuss Gaza security in talks in Cairo later this week.

One Israeli idea has been that the Egyptians take control of the so-called Philadelphia Road, which runs along the border and has been a major flashpoint between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during a more than three-year-old uprising.

But Mubarak said: "It's up to the Palestinian Authority to enforce the law and ensure security in Gaza. We can help along the border but the Palestinian Authority must have the means to be responsible for security in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal."

Ha'aretz reported that Egypt is expected to demand that Israel allow adjustments to the security arrangements reached in the peace agreement between the two countries so that Cairo can increase its forces along the Egyptian side of the border with the Gaza Strip in the event that Israel withdraws from the Philadelphia area, which runs between Rafah and the beach. The additional forces will be needed to provide security along the border and to prevent smuggling of weapons into the Strip.

Currently, the peace agreement allows Egypt to place on the border only civilian police forces, which fulfill "normal police duties." Also stationed in the region is a Fiji battalion, from the international forces that oversee adherence to the security arrangements.

A decision was reportedly made in Cairo to provide as much aid as possible so that Israel leaves the Gaza Strip. The Egyptians do not intend to station their own forces in the Strip, but will act to guard the border from the Egyptian side alone. However, they are prepared to aid the Palestinian Authority in security matters. For example, the Egyptians are prepared to aid in training and consulting Palestinian security forces, as they have done in the past.

Mubarak also said that United States plans for political reform in the Arab world could encourage violence and cannot succeed without an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "That is the danger they [the Americans] do not seem to understand," he told LeFigaro. "An initiative imposed from abroad would be rejected by the peoples concerned and would lead to anarchy in the whole region, from Morocco to Pakistan. That would play into the hands of terrorism, which will not be confined to the Middle East but will reach Europe and the United States. If the extremists win, you can forget democracy."

The U.S. to an overwhelmingly hostile response in the Arab world, has floated proposals for a Greater Middle East Initiative for internal reform. The initiative does not deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict - which Arabs say lies at the heart of the region's woes. The U.S. has responded to criticism by saying that reform should come from inside and that Washington does intend to work for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Arab leaders are expected to draft a common response to the initiative when they meet in Tunis later this month. Arab proposals so far endorse the concept of political and social reform but do not commit leaders to any specifics.

Mubarak, echoing the views of many Arab leaders, said the priority for the region was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he called "the source of all the problems. All reform in the countries of the Middle East will not be able to succeed as long as this conflict is not resolved. The peoples are very affected by what is happening and are watching the destruction of the Palestinian territories."

Mubarak is expected to put his point of view when he meets President Bush at his ranch in Texas in April.

Drunken Ultra-Orthodox Jews Attack Four Arabs in J'lem

By Ha'aretz

Ultra-Orthodox Jews under the influence of alcohol attacked four Arab cab drivers in Jerusalem on Monday, lightly wounding them. On Joseph Karo Street, dozens of drunken ultra-Orthodox Jews attacked an Arab cab driver. When police arrived at the scene to rescue the driver, they also beat the policemen, and tried to steal equipment from their patrol car. The cab driver sustained light wounds. Police dispersed the crowd and arrested three suspects.

Later in the day, on Highway No. 1, ultra-Orthodox Jews hurled stones at an Arab cab near the Novotel Hotel in the capital. The driver of the cab suffered light wounds and was taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Mt Scopus. Police forces were searching the area in an effort to locate the attackers.

Two other Arabs drivers were hurt Monday after ultra-Orthodox threw stones at their vehicles in the Mea She'arim neighborhood. Drunken Haredim also hurled stones at passing vehicles in the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood in Jerusalem.

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