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 Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Israel's struggle for security
Megiddo bus attack aftermath, June 2002
Megiddo bus attack, June 2002
Martin Asser

Since the beginning of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Israel has stepped up its domestic security regime and imposed increasingly draconian measures on the Palestinian population.

However, as successive suicide bombings have shown, it is clear Israel's ability to prevent Palestinian militant attacks remains limited.

Since the outbreak of the intifada, the Israeli army was has blockaded Palestinian-ruled parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

It has also launched air strikes against the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority and continued a programme of "targeted killings" of known Palestinian militants whom it blamed for organising armed attacks.

Car and roadside bombs continued to claim Israeli lives, and Israel responded with air strikes and a tightening of the blockade on Palestinian areas.

'Security first'

In February 2001, Israel elected Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister after a campaign that had focused almost entirely on security issues.

Mr Sharon laid down stringent conditions on a return to talks - to restore security rather than revive the peace process - demanding a cessation of Palestinian violence first.

The Palestinian security apparatus has been unable - or unwilling, as the Israelis see it - to impose calm on the population.

In April 2001, Israeli troops briefly reoccupied part of Gaza that had been ceded to full Palestinian control.

Ariel Sharon
Violence has increased since Sharon's election
A month later, a suicide bomber, dispatched by militant group Hamas, blew himself up in an Israeli population centre for the first time in this intifada, outside a shopping centre in Netanya. Five Israelis were left dead and 100 wounded.

Bombers struck again devastatingly in June, killing 22 people in a Tel Aviv nightclub. In August, 15 people were killed in a Jerusalem pizzeria.

After the Tel Aviv nightclub attack, Mr Sharon refrained from tough military action.

But five days after the Jerusalem bombing, he sent troops and tanks into the Palestinian-ruled city of Jenin - the first such incursion in the West Bank.

Raising the stakes

At the end of August, Israel assassinated PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa.

His followers responded on 17 October with the assassination of Israel's Tourism Minister, Rehavam Zeevi, a friend of Mr Sharon.

The killing of Zeevi opened a new chapter of bloodshed. Israel invaded six West Bank cities, killing dozens of Palestinians and demanding that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's administration hand over those responsible for Zeevi's death.

The troops withdrew in stages, but the Palestinian militants hit back within days with simultaneous suicide bomb attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa, killing 25 Israelis.

Israeli tanks roll into Jenin
Israeli occupation has become the norm for Palestinians
The bombings continued into 2002. Jerusalem was hit several times and there were a number of attacks on Israeli buses.

The last straw for Mr Sharon came in Netanya, where, on 27 March, 29 people celebrating the Jewish Passover holiday were killed by a Hamas bomber.

That triggered a massive operation in the West Bank, Defensive Shield.

This time the troops remained in control of Palestinian towns in the West Bank for weeks, with curfews, mass arrests and lethal force used to stamp out any resistance.

Yasser Arafat was besieged in his Ramallah compound, as were militants sheltering in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, who were expelled after a 39-day siege.

Resistance continues

As Palestinian civilian areas were recovering from the devastating incursion, militants in West Bank were still able to penetrate Israel's defences.

Then in July, an Israeli missile attack killed Hamas leader Sheikh Salah Shahada. Fourteen others died in the attack, including nine children.

The Israeli Government began construction of a controversial wall between Israel and the West Bank in June to present a physical barrier to the suicide bombers. However, work has proceeded slowly.

Yasser Arafat
Israel blames Arafat for instigating the violence
Another controversial measure was to expel from the West Bank to Gaza relatives of suicide bombers as a deterrent, in addition to demolishing their homes. This policy has run into legal obstacles.

A third major West Bank incursion began in response to continued suicide attacks. This time all the major population centres excluding Jericho were occupied.

Only Bethlehem has enjoyed a brief respite since then, with troops pulling back under a directly-negotiated security agreement in August. An easing of the stranglehold on Gaza was agreed but has remained unimplemented.

Many West Bank Palestinians have lived under an almost continuous curfew since then.

Latest

As the Palestinian population suffered further hardship, militant factions discussed, but could not agree, on an end to suicide attacks in Israel.

Many senior Palestinians have concluded that suicide attacks are damaging their interests on the world stage. But hardliners continue to view attacks on civilians as the best way to undermine and demoralise Israel.

Yasser Arafat's administration has repeatedly condemned the attacks on Israelis and his Fatah faction has said it would act to prevent them.

Partial ceasefire offer

In late September 2002, violence dramatically increased in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel after six weeks of relative quiet.

On 18 September Israel rejected an offer by the various Palestinian factions to cease attacks on civilians inside Israel.

Israeli officials demanded a total cessation of violence, including attacks on settlers and soldiers in the occupied territories.

This rejection was followed by two suicide attacks, various Israeli incursions - including a siege of Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters - and assassination attempts against Palestinian militants.

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  The BBC's James Rodgers in Gaza
"The intifada goes on"

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20 May 02 | Middle East
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