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Israel Blunts Uprising's Impact

Military Actions Slow Suicide Bombers but Take Toll on Palestinian Civilians

By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 5, 2004; Page A22

JERUSALEM -- After four years of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel has established dominance on the battlefield, sharply reduced loss of life among its soldiers and civilians, and advanced its own agenda for the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the absence of negotiations to bring peace, according to officials and analysts from both sides.

In a pivotal shift in the conflict, Israel has crippled the effectiveness of the Palestinian militants' primary strategic weapon -- the suicide bomber -- with frequent military operations in the Palestinian territories, assassinations of dozens of militant leaders, improved intelligence, and construction of a massive barrier through and around the West Bank. At the same time, however, Israel's reliance on military options also has killed Palestinian civilians and inflicted hardships on Palestinian communities.

A Palestinian opens his door to Israeli soldiers securing the West Bank city of Hebron during a visit of Jewish pilgrims to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Frequent operations by Israeli security forces have helped reduce the loss of Israeli civilian and military lives. (Oded Balilty -- AP)

Four Years of Fighting: The Palestinian uprising, or intifada, completed its fourth year on Sept. 28. Here is a statistical look at some elements of the conflict.

Since the uprising erupted in September 2000, approximately 2,800 Palestinians and about 1,000 Israelis have been killed, according to records compiled by The Post. About 27,200 Palestinians and 5,700 Israelis have been wounded.

Moreover, the Palestinian death toll has increased more dramatically than the Israeli toll. When Palestinian suicide attacks were at their peak two years ago, an average of two Palestinians were killed for each Israeli. So far this year, five Palestinians have been killed for each Israeli.

The trend has continued during the past week in the Gaza Strip, where Israel launched a military operation on Sept. 28 to thwart Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli targets. Continued fighting Monday raised the death toll to 74 Palestinians in northern Gaza, according to Palestinian medical officials. Five Israelis have been killed in northern Gaza.

Violence also continued Monday in the West Bank, where an Israeli policeman and two Palestinians died in a gun battle in Ramallah.

The conflict -- which entered its fifth year on Sept. 28 -- has also divided both societies internally. Israelis question whether their country is losing its moral compass because of its tactics in the Palestinian territories. Growing numbers of Palestinian leaders recognize how seriously suicide bombings against Israeli civilians have set back their cause.

"Israel's victory has come at a very high price," said Michael Oren, a prominent Israeli historian and senior fellow at the Shalem Center, an Israeli think tank whose members primarily represent hawkish views of the conflict. "It comes in terms of Israel's deepening isolation and vilification, the danger of sanctions, and tension in Israeli society -- to say nothing of the deaths of hundreds of people."

Today no peace process is being pursued, and the three primary players in any attempt to resolve the conflict -- Israel, the Palestinians and the United States -- have abandoned fundamental commitments to bringing about peace, according to representatives of each.

The United States, seen as the critical power broker by both Israel and the Palestinians, is engaged in presidential elections and the continued fighting in Iraq and has given up most serious efforts at mediation. Israel has not controlled the steady growth of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, and the Palestinian Authority has done little to stop attacks against Israel or implement security reforms, officials and analysts say.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has "no vision, no strategies, no policies," said Abdul Jawad Salah, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has resigned or threatened to resign numerous times in a continuing power struggle with Arafat that has contributed to a climate of political and security chaos in the Palestinian territories. Militant organizations have attacked and kidnapped Palestinian Authority officials to protest Arafat's refusal to embrace internal reforms.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the other hand, is taking advantage of the Palestinians' political stalemate and Israel's overwhelming military superiority to chart his own course -- planning a withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip while consolidating Israel's hold on the West Bank by building a fence around the territory and permitting steady growth of Jewish settlements there.

Despite international condemnation and Israel's pledge to freeze the growth of settlements, the number of settlers in the Palestinian territories has risen by about 39,000 since the start of the uprising, or intifada, four years ago, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry. Over the same period, the Israeli government has issued tenders for the construction of more than 6,500 new housing units in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, anti-settlement groups report.

"Ariel Sharon knows exactly what he wants and is working to achieve this every day in his own way," said Uri Avnery, head of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom. "He thinks the losses are negligible compared to the aim he's set for himself."

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