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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 12:59 GMT
Israel warns of Iraq war 'earthquake'
Pro-Saddam rally in Ramallah
Saddam has traditionally supported the Palestinians
The head of the Israeli army has warned of an "earthquake, which will reshape" the Middle East if America goes to war with Iraq.

Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon told an Israeli newspaper that while he expected America to launch a strike, he was more concerned about attacks by Palestinian militants than any danger posed to Israel by Iraq.

His comments came as Israeli police said they found an explosives belt hidden in a mosque in Israel after troops arrested two would-be suicide bombers in the West Bank.

The arrests followed two days of bloodshed in which six Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in continuing violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Ready for Iraq

With the momentum building towards a war with Iraq, Israel is on heightened alert in case Iraq tries to retaliate by attacking the Jewish state, as it did in the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraqi Scud strikes Tel Aviv, 1991
Iraq fired 39 Scuds at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War

Gen Yaalon told the Yediot Ahranot newspaper that he would be "very surprised" if America did not attack Iraq. "In fact, they are already prepared to do it," he said.

He said that if Iraq attacked Israel, the Jewish state would defend itself.

The chief-of-staff said that a successful offensive against Iraq would have positive consequences for the region, but warned that "perceived" failure would have a negative impact on Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Gen Yaalon said his main concern was an Iraqi threat to Israel, but violence with the Palestinians and the growing "nuclear potential" of some regional countries - an apparent allusion to Iran.

'Bomb-belt found'

The Israeli Government said security forces had thwarted an attempt by Palestinian militants to carry out a "spectacular attack" after the discovery of an explosives belt in a mosque in an Israeli Arab town.

Israeli police said they found the belt, which was packed with 10-15 kilograms (20-30lbs) of explosives, hidden in a garbage bag in the town of Taibeh, north of Tel Aviv.

The reported find came after police arrested two members of the militant Islamic Jihad group between the West Bank cities of Nablus and Tulkarm, apparently on their way to pick up the belt.

"To bring an explosives belt inside a mosque is a cynical use of the holy character of the site," local police chief Amihai Shai told Israel public radio.

Palestinian militants have carried out dozens of suicide attacks against Israeli targets since the start of the uprising in September, 2000.

'Christian militant' detained

The Israeli army, meanwhile, has detained the only Christian member of the radical Islamic al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Reuters news agency quoted Israeli and Palestinian sources as saying.

Chris Benedict, 24, was apprehended in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Reuters quoted Palestinian officials as saying.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said Mr Benedict was a "senior terrorist" suspected of involvement in ambushes and suicide attacks.

There was angry reaction, meanwhile, following the deaths of two male Palestinian nurses, reportedly killed by Israeli helicopter gunfire in Gaza on Thursday.

Britain issued a statement saying the deaths were a "particular tragedy" and called on Israel to do "everything within [its] power to prevent further deaths of civilians".

Israel has neither confirmed or denied it caused the Palestinians' deaths.

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06 Feb 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
22 Dec 02 | Middle East
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