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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Analysis: Ceasefire under pressure
Israeli soldiers
Few experts think the crisis has a military solution
By the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israelis that began last month is looking increasingly ragged.

In the wake of a Palestinian mortar attack on the settlement of Gilo in Jerusalem, Israel is now massing troops near to Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

But few experts believe that there is a military solution to the current crisis.

The deadly cycle of action and retaliation threatens to undermine the fragile cease-fire negotiated just a few weeks ago by the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet.

Descent into violence

That cease-fire was supposed to allow a breathing space to try to get the political process back on track.
Aftermath of the helicopter attack
Israel's helicopter attack left four people dead

Instead there has been a gradual descent into further violence.

Both sides are blaming each other for the collapse of the cease-fire.

Palestinians condemn continuing incursions by Israeli troops into areas under Palestinian control. They point to the targeted killing of Palestinian activists - indeed it was the helicopter attack on the head of the Hamas military organisation in Bethlehem that left four people dead that provoked the mortar attack on Gilo.

The Israelis for their part insist that the Palestinian Authority has not done enough to curb the activities of groups like Hamas. Bomb attacks have continued.

On Tuesday night Israel massed troops and armoured units south of Bethlehem and north of Jenin.

It is still not clear if this is a demonstration or whether Israel intends to make a significant incursion into Palestinian areas.

Huge cost

Such scenarios have been the subject of war games in the past and Israel's military commanders know that such a move could be extremely costly in terms of civilian lives, not to mention Israel's standing abroad.

Most military experts agree that it would serve as little more than a warning.

Analysts believe there is no definitive military answer to the intifada.

But pressure for action among sections of the Israeli public is growing.

The danger is that any large-scale military move could effectively lead to an overt war between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This would solve little but would end any chance of meaningful political progress for the foreseeable future.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister
"Yasser Arafat, like us, does not have a choice but to return to peace and reason"
Marwan Kanafani, spokesman for Yasser Arafat
"It is up to the world to stop this war against the Palestinian people"
The BBC's Martha Dixon
"Neither side wants to be seen to be puling out of the ceasefire first but each is pushing the other to do exactly that"
The BBC's Paul Wood
"Violence has been tit for tat"
See also:

17 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israel hits back after suicide bombing
13 Jul 01 | Middle East
Hamas vows revenge for 'assassination'
09 Jul 01 | Middle East
Suicide bomber dies in Gaza blast
17 Jul 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Mideast truce crumbling
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