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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 May, 2004, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Israel reviews tactics after Gaza raid
By Richard Miron
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

The Israeli military is suggesting that its operations in Rafah have not ceased despite appearances to the contrary with the departure of troops from the area.

A senior security official told the BBC: "This is a pause. We're going to take a deep breath, but this continues."

Palestinian women in Gaza rubble
Israel's military operation sparked international outcry
The Israeli army's actions in Rafah - codenamed by the military 'Operation Rainbow' - began after 13 Israeli troops were killed in Gaza within the space of a few days.

The army said it was going into Rafah to seek out Palestinian militants and uncover tunnels between Egypt and Gaza that were being used to bring in weaponry.

Intelligence sources have suggested in the Israeli press that militants had acted to counter this development.

Some commentators have also suggested that the army acted in order to assert its presence following the attacks, to rebuff any sense of vulnerability that may have followed the loss of its troops at the hands of Palestinian militants.

'Border threat'

According to international treaties Israel controls a narrow strip of land - called the Philadelphi Road - along the border zone, and the military appears to have been concerned that if the situation was left unchecked its forces would be increasingly vulnerable to attacks.

Now there's debate in Israel about what was actually achieved during its almost week-long venture in Gaza.

Major General Dan Harel, the senior Israeli officer in charge of Gaza, has said that three smuggling tunnels were uncovered, 41 Palestinian militants killed and others arrested.

He claims the military actions have helped Israel to counter what he sees as a threat to his forces along the border.

But Major General Harel also conceded that up to seven tunnels may remain - and other military officials believe that many of the militants it sought got away.

A senior military official said that the operation didn't answer the fundamental question of how Israel should deal with security along the border area.

Condemnation

The pictures of Palestinian suffering - including the deaths of up to 13 civilians killed during the military operation - caused an international outcry against the Israeli army's actions.

The death of eight Palestinians, including children killed by Israeli tank fire during a demonstration, was a turning point in terms of international opinion.

An Israeli soldier runs next to a tank in Rafah
The army's action started after Israeli troops were killed in Gaza
The army issued an apology saying it was a mistake, but the incident led to a furore with condemnation for Israel around the globe, including criticism from its closest ally in Washington.

The pictures of broken streets and destroyed houses along with the human distress in Gaza even caused upset within the Israeli government.

The Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said the TV pictures made Israel look monstrous.

His comments reflected growing disquiet among the Israeli population with the army's operation.

Offer of compensation

A senior military official in Jerusalem says that the army may go back into Rafah, but with limited success in this latest operation it is examining other options to secure the border area.

He talked about widening the Philadelphi Road as well as building a deep trench to prevent tunnels being built between Gaza and Egypt.

The official said the changes along the border would involve the destruction of substantial numbers of Palestinian homes in the area.

The army is talking about compensating people affected, but the Israeli judicial authorities are checking the legality of such a move.

The official said that Israel had looked around the globe for ways to secure the area but had failed to find adequate answers.

And in the absence of a such a solution it seems that the Israeli army may, at some point, order its forces back into Rafah.




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