by DEBKAfile, 29 March 2002

"In an all-night session, the full Israeli coalition government approved an all-out, extended military offensive against terrorists, its instigators and supporters in every part of Palestinian territory - though not to deport Palestinian leader Arafat, as prime minister Ariel Sharon demanded. Instead, for 'formulating terror strategy and building a coalition of terrorist forces', he was sentenced to be totally isolated 'at this stage'.

In addition, 20,000 reservists are to be called up and nine army companies attached to city police forces to combat the surging terrorist attacks.

These actions – just short of physically removing Arafat - were taken after 27 Israelis died in Palestinian terror attacks between the onset of the Passover festival Wednesday night, March 27, and Friday morning, March 29.
This raises to 50 the Israeli death toll for the second half of March, since US envoy Anthony Zinni began his ceasefire mission.

Prior to the Israeli government’s announcement at 08:30 IT Friday, Israeli tanks knocked down the western wall of the Palestinian leader’s compound in Ramallah, rocketed buildings quartering his guards and security chiefs, and engaged in hand to hand combat from room to room.

DEBKAfile’s military analysts interpret the opening moves of the military confrontation begun Friday, March 29:
Israel forces appear to be heading to re-occupy most Palestinian West Bank towns for the purpose of eradicating Palestinian commands and arsenals, including those of the Palestinian Authority’s official security services.

Thousands of wanted suspects will be rounded up and taken to special detention camps for interrogation.
The big difference between this campaign and previous ones is that the IDF is empowered to strike and eliminate Palestinian Authority institutions, with one exception: Yasser Arafat in person.

Our military sources report that the Palestinian leader is aware of the immunity granted him in Sharon’s pledge to President Bush. But he took his total isolation into account, including the cutoff of his telephone and radio connections with his aides and field commanders. He therefore had a courier unit trained to steal back and forth through Israeli siege lines with messages and instructions. Some of those couriers are small children, on the assumption that Israeli forces will not harm them.

When the Israeli prime minister stressed the totality of Arafat’s isolation, what he meant was this: Most of his telephones will be cut off but some stay connected for the benefit of Israeli eavesdroppers. At the same time, the IDF’s electronic warfare units have imposed an electronic blanket on every corner of the Palestinian leader’s headquarters. Incoming and outgoing signals are blocked and outsiders attempting to enter the premises or bring messages detected. Electronic watchers can pick up movements and sounds inside the buildings covered.
Israeli military planners do not expect a smooth entry into Palestinian towns. Small groups of combatants will try and stop the tank columns, armed with anti-tank missiles, powerful explosive devices, mines and heavy machine guns. The Palestinian response will be offensive rather than defensive.

DEBKAfile reports that Israeli military intelligence picked up an order issued by Arafat last week to split Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip into hundreds of enclaves manned by units of 30-50 fighters. Each is commanded by an officer of the Palestinian security or intelligence forces, with a mandate to make decisions on the wing as he sees fit.

Some weeks ago, Palestinian intelligence services assembled an army of suicides for a Passover terror offensive against Israel. Dozens of suicide bombers equipped with explosive belts and hundreds of gun squads for storming Israeli settlements and villages on both sides of the Green Line are currently roaming free on route to their targets. They received their final orders to strike Thursday noon, March 28.

The attack on Alon Moreh near Nablus Thursday night, in which four Israelis were killed, launched that series, which continued Friday, March 29, when a Palestinian stabbed two Israelis to death in Netatzarim, Gaza Strip.

The Passover terror offensive may also extend to targeted assassinations against Israeli politicians and army and police officers. Heavy troop reinforcements have therefore been poured into Israeli towns, especially Jerusalem, to beef up already over-extended police strength.

DEBKAfile is closely tracking the developing war situation."