Sharon 'creating a lose-lose situation' with Gaza invasion

By Harvey Morris in Gaza

Financial Times

Published: October 7 2004

As Israeli forces killed seven more Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Mohamed Dahlan, the most influential figure in the territory, accused the government of Ariel Sharon of dragging both peoples into a "lose-lose situation".

Mr Dahlan, a former Palestinian Authority security chief, said the invasion, in which about 90 Palestinians have died, was a revenge operation that did not reflect Israel's security needs.

Two 15-year-old boys hit by a tank shell were among the latest deaths in the Israeli operation that began more than a week ago when armoured vehicles moved in strength into northern Gaza.

Mr Dahlan said that, by destroying the peace process and trying to liquidate the PA, Mr Sharon was playing for time.

"He may gain time - one or two years - but the Israelis will lose a lot and we will lose a lot. It's a lose-lose situation," he said.

The Israeli offensive was driving people into the arms of Hamas, its ostensible target, he added.

Militants of the Islamic movement on Thursday fired two more home-made Qassam rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The army entered Gaza to end Hamas's ability to launch the Qassams.

"This crisis will raise the hatred, including among innocent people who lost their families and homes. They will be recruited by Hamas," Mr Dahlan said.

The former security minister quit the PA government a year ago in a dispute with Yassir Arafat, PA president, over control of the security forces.

Earlier this year, there was widespread speculation that he was behind internal unrest in Gaza that some Palestinians said appeared to be an attempt to unseat Mr Arafat.

Mr Dahlan said on Thursday that Mr Sharon's failure to lift the siege on the PA president, who has been marooned in his Ramallah compound for more than two years, gave him no incentive to co-operate with Israel.

"Unless Arafat gets something, he will have no interest," he said.

Other officials noted that Mr Arafat had made no public move to try to cool the situation in Gaza, where Hamas militants have vowed to continue their rocket attacks.

"I can understand why Arafat is lax about these rockets," said Ziad Abu Amr, a leading reformist in the Palestinian parliament.

Palestinian officials expressed little surprise on Thursday about reported comments by Dov Weisglass, Mr Sharon's closest aide, that the prime minister's plan to evacuate Jewish settlers from Gaza next year was designed to freeze the peace process.

"I said the same thing myself three months ago," said Mr Dahlan. "But it's good for the international community to know that Sharon doesn't want peace. He wants to continue the occupation."

After the US requested Israeli clarification of Mr Weisglass's remarks, Colin Powell, secretary of state, said yesterday that the administration did not doubt Mr Sharon's commitment to the international peace "road map".