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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Palestinian militants 'change tactics'
Israeli army post near Ramallah
An Israeli post near to where six soldiers were killed
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By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala
line

There appears to have been a significant shift in the tactics employed by Palestinian militants against Israel.

They have stepped up attacks on the instruments of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - soldiers, check points, settlements and settler convoys.

Israeli soldier in the West Bank
Israel's usually supreme army is under pressure
These attacks appear to be a move away from suicide attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel.

Tuesday's storming of an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank, in which six soldiers died, was the most devastating attack on the Israeli army in the 17 months of the intifada.

On Thursday, for the first time, a Palestinian attack in Gaza destroyed a heavily armoured Israeli vehicle which had previously operated with impunity.

The Merkava tank, a symbol of Israeli military superiority, was totally destroyed and three of its crew were killed outright.

Crisis of confidence

The effect has been deep shock among many Israelis. Their army, which has traditionally been supreme in the region, is under pressure.

Israeli newspaper commentaries say the army looks ineffective and vulnerable in the face of increasingly sophisticated Palestinian attacks.

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon's tactics are being attacked by the left and right in Israel
One Israeli newspaper commentary spoke of Israeli soldiers becoming the "hunted not the hunters".

Israeli right-wingers are calling for an all-out attack on the Palestinian militants that brings an end to the uprising by destroying these groups completely.

The left wants the Israeli army to pull out of West Bank and Gaza and negotiations to start.

Sharon's response

Both sides are deeply critical of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They say that the military strategy he has pursued has failed to provide security for Israelis and he has no long-term plan to end the violence.


Palestinians are doing the right thing - attacking these checkpoints which have only been put there to humiliate the population. People are proud that this is not against civilians, it's against occupying soldiers

Adil al-Zarigh, resident of Ramallah
On Wednesday, Mr Sharon hinted at his reaction to the deteriorating situation.

He approved a new action plan which officials have indicated involves increased military operations against the Palestinians. Official sources have spoken of a more massive military response.

This is likely to be criticised by the Israeli left and, unless it involves the occupation of all of the West Bank and Gaza, the right-wingers in Mr Sharon's cabinet.

End of suicide bombings?

It is by no means certain yet, but the recent Palestinian successes against the Israeli army may signal the end of suicide attacks.

The shift appears to be in favour of commando style attacks - similar to those used by Hezbollah against the Israeli army in Lebanon.

Targeting the military and settlers on occupied territory also has, for the Palestinians, an important political advantage.

Suicide attacks which killed civilians inside Israel were heavily criticised internationally, and allowed Israel to paint all Palestinian violence as terrorism.

By attacking Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian militants will be better able to argue that they are resistance fighters opposing occupation.

A Palestinian living in Ramallah, which has come under heavy Israeli attack in recent days, spoke to BBC News Online of the pride of Palestinians at the latest twist in the conflict.

"Palestinians are doing the right thing - attacking these checkpoints which have only been put there to humiliate the population. People are proud that this is not against civilians, it's against occupying soldiers," Adil al-Zarigh said.

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