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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK
Analysis: Echoes of south Lebanon

By Barbara Plett
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

It has been the worst week of fighting Gaza has seen in months.

Israeli low-loader evacuates wrecked armoured vehicle from the Gaza Strip
The Israeli army has not known such losses for months

Thirty Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers died in urban battles as Israel continued a war that few of its people believe it can win.

Some were increasingly reminded of another conflict which ended in defeat: Israel's long occupation of southern Lebanon.

Popular pressure forced troops to withdraw without a peace deal in 2000, in the face of increasingly effective guerrilla attacks by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

"People are getting killed in Gaza, and it's like the Lebanon mud, getting stuck in the mud," says one young man. "What are we doing there? Shouldn't we go out of Gaza and guard the border?"

"It's the same situation, we are in a big mess," says another. "We don't know if we need to leave or to stay there, that's a big issue."

'Wrong message'

Amidst the tears and the funerals are questions about the high cost of occupying Gaza, and the purpose.

If you pull out now without having an agreement or some kind of settlement, you're going to show the terrorists that they can win
Rafael Ben Khur
Israeli civil servant

Soldiers guard some 7,000 Jewish settlers living there among 1.3 million Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided Israel should withdraw unilaterally as part of a plan to disengage from parts of the occupied territories.

Polls show some 70% of Israelis agree with him.

But his Likud party does not - it rejected the plan in a vote two weeks ago. Members say Palestinians will claim victory if Israel leaves and violence will increase. That is the lesson learned from Lebanon, they say.

That is also a concern expressed on the streets.

"We pulled out from Lebanon and the intifada started - we shouldn't make the same mistake," says civil servant Rafael Ben Khur.

"This is exactly what [the Palestinian militants] are expecting. If you pull out now without having an agreement or some kind of settlement, you're going to show the terrorists that they can win, and we can't show the terrorists that they can win."

Mr Sharon has promised not to withdraw under fire.

"The Gaza Strip is not Lebanon, in many ways," says his chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon.

"We will fight terror wherever the Israeli government decides to draw the line. And as long as there is terror, grounds of terror and means of terror... we will have to act in Gaza against it."

Ways of leaving

There are divisions on the left of the Israeli political spectrum as well as the right.

Some, like opposition Labour Party leader Shimon Peres, support a unilateral pullout.

Others, like Peace Now activist Ari Arnon, say withdrawal alone will not solve anything - it has to go hand in hand with negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement.

"I think Israel should withdraw from Gaza," he says, "and then continue from Gaza and negotiate the future of the West Bank and the future of Jerusalem and the refugees.

"So if it's in the context of a new peace process, then I support it. If it's in the context of just new frontlines for the war to continue, then it's something different, and not a big change in my view."

At funerals this week soldiers fired salutes to honour their dead comrades.

The mourning they expressed is shared by most Israelis.

But fewer and fewer understand what they are dying for, when their leaders tell them they have no more future in Gaza than they did in Lebanon.

Israel and the Palestinians



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