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Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Israel’s Sharon under pressure from home to stop bloodshed

February 19, 2002

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— In a sign that political winds may be shifting in Israel, a large group of retired military and security officers has called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

The group of 1,200 former officers also urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to immediately dismantle 50 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The demands reflect changing political moods in Israel as both the political left and right clamor for Sharon to take some sort of action to halt escalating bloodshed, which continued on Monday.

Shortly after nightfall, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a convoy of settlers in the Gaza Strip, killing two Israelis and injuring three others. Earlier, a Palestinian set off a car bomb near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ma'ale Adumin, killing himself and one police officer, and wounding a second.

The retired officers who make up the Council for Peace and Security circulated a statement saying Israel's military control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip is "a strategic and moral liability for the state of Israel."

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are predominantly Palestinian areas that Israel occupied during the 1967 Middle East War. Palestinians want a withdrawal of Israeli troops and the removal of Jewish housing developments, or settlements, so that the territories can become the country of Palestine with the eastern part of Jerusalem as its capital.

"We don't feel we have the moral right to remain in the territories," said Shlomo Lahat, a former army general and popular former mayor of Tel Aviv, who is a member of the Council for Peace and Security.

Members of the council approved of the statement late last year, but it only was made widely known on Monday. In a similar but unrelated development, about 50 army reservists last month signed a letter announcing their refusal to serve in the territories, protesting Israeli treatment of Palestinians. By now 256 reservists have signed it.

The two movements "are important indicators of cracks in the consensus" on Sharon's strategy toward the Palestinians, said Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad officer and member of the Council of Peace and Security's executive committee.

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