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Sharon's Cabinet: Targeting of Palestinians to continue, border to be tightened

But ministers resist right-wing calls to ratchet up level of IDF fighting against Palestinians

By Aluf Benn and Amnon Barzilai

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's security cabinet Wednesday, approving an extension of the policy of "intercepting" (targeting and killing or seizing) Palestinians suspected of planning terror attacks, ordered new measures aimed at keeping militants from crossing the West Bank into Israel.

In a operational plan described during the meeting as "an element in the struggle against terror," the measures increase security forces activity along the Green Line, Israel's pre-1967-war border with the then-Jordanian held West Bank.

The approved steps also provide for beefed-up enforcement of Palestinians illegally "infiltrating" into Israel, as well as Israelis who employ and shelter them.

During the cabinet session an argument erupted between cabinet ministers Ephraim Sneh (Labor) and Shlomo Benizri (Shas). "There are ministers who want to do as little as possible in fighting Palestinian violence," Israel Radio quoted Benizri as telling the ministers.

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Sneh, a reserve army brigadier general who lauded Sharon for sticking to his policy of relative restraint, retorted, "Ministers want to do that which is effective."

Benizri, who said grass-roots Israelis were demanding to know how much longer the violence would last, then said that there were ministers who wanted to create the impression that cabinet rightists were calling for war. "Who is talking about war at all? We are speaking of a policy of hitting Palestinians, hitting infrastructures, this is only self-defense."

Sharon Tuesday characterized the present policy as mounting "serious attacks on terrorists planning to attack us, while safeguarding Israel's diplomatic interests. This is tough, but it is the right course at present. This is a difficult war, but we will win it."

At the end of a an assessment session in the Defense Ministry overnight, a senior security official told Israel Radio that "Israel is making do for now with massing infantry forces and tanks in the (West) Bank and will try to refrain as much as possible from a response that could cause further escalation in the territories."

Officials in Jerusalem said the mortar fire directed at Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood Tuesday was proof that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat retains good control over the area, which was quiet for a prolonged period before the IDF helicopter gunship raid that killed four Hamas activists in nearby Beit Jala village. The raid triggered the mortar attack, which in turn led to exchanges of heavy automatic fire.