| An Israeli woman kisses a grave in Jerusalem during a memorial ceremony for soldiers who had died in the Yom Kippur War. (AFP)
Jerusalem, Oct. 7 (Reuters): Buoyed by US backing for Israel’s right to defend itself, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said today the Jewish state was ready to hit its enemies anywhere following an air raid deep inside Syria.
Speaking at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war, Sharon took a tough line but made no specific threats after Sunday’s strike on what Israel said was a training camp for Palestinian militants.
It was Israel’s deepest air raid in Syria in three decades and followed a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 19 people in a restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa a day earlier.
US President George W. Bush insisted yesterday that Israel should not feel constrained in defending itself but said he told Sharon: “It’s very important that any action Israel take(s) should avoid escalation and creating higher tensions.”
Sharon’s first public comments since Sunday’s strike also followed a flare-up of violence on Israel’s border with Lebanon, where Syria is the main powerbroker. “Israel will not be deterred from defending its citizens and will hit its enemies any place and in any way,” Sharon said in a speech broadcast live from a military cemetery in Jerusalem.
“At the same time we will not miss any opening and opportunity to reach an agreement with our neighbours and peace.”
Israel accuses Syria of giving safe haven to Palestinian militants spearheading a three-year-old uprising for independence.
Political analysts saw the Israeli air raid as a warning shot to Syria, whose military is no match for Israel’s, and said it was unlikely to escalate into a full-blown conflict.
But they expected heightened tensions between the two countries and sporadic clashes with Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas backed by Syria and Iran.
Syria called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday, but Washington, which has a veto, said it would not support a resolution that condemned the Israeli raid without mentioning the Haifa suicide attack.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, facing fresh Israeli threats to “remove” him, today swore in an emergency eight-member cabinet led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, who has close ties to Arafat.
Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said Israel would judge the new cabinet by its actions but added: “In all likelihood, if it is established by Arafat it will not fight terror.”
However, former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan said an emergency government had little chance of success and questioned Arafat’s decision to form a crisis cabinet.
Dahlan said he would not have advised Arafat to declare a state of emergency. “The preparation and the direction for the emergency government seem not to have been studied in a real and serious manner. Therefore, I do not think there is a mechanism and a vision to get out of the crisis,” he said.
“I hope I am wrong because President Arafat — not only the Prime Minister — shoulders the burden at this stage because he was the one who declared the state of emergency.”
The Palestinians are required to rein in militants under a stalled US-backed peace “road map”, but Qurie has ruled out a crackdown for fear of starting a civil war. The Palestinian resistance groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, cautioned in a Beirut statement against the Palestinian Authority using the new cabinet to “take oppressive measures”.
Under terms of the road map, Israel at this stage is supposed to begin easing the hardships of Palestinians and stop building settlements.
Israeli military sources said “terror groups” in southern Lebanon fired missiles and rockets early today that landed near an army base and a communal farm in northern Israel.
A missile also hit a house in southern Lebanon, killing a boy. Security sources in Beirut said it was probably fired at Israel from inside Lebanon but fell short.
Israel’s army said a soldier was shot dead at the border yesterday, and military sources blamed his death on Hizbollah, which denied any involvement.