| An Israeli policeman argues with a Palestinian youth in east Jerusalem. (Reuters)
Jerusalem, Oct. 8 (Reuters): Israel cleared the way for a call-up of army reservists today over fears of a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, but said it was not trying to stoke tension in West Asia.
In an apparent effort to ease a war of words with Syria over an Israeli air raid near Damascus, Israel did not formally respond to a threat by Syria’s ambassador to Spain that Damascus could respond militarily if Israel launched more attacks.
Syria also sought to defuse tension, saying through an official source that the envoy’s comments represented his “personal understanding of the official position”.
Tensions have been simmering since the Israeli air strike on what it said was a training camp for Palestinian militants near Damascus on Sunday, one day after a Palestinian suicide bombing which killed 19 people in the Israeli city of Haifa. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet announced no major decisions after its first meeting since the suicide bombing.
But a senior government source said defence minister Shaul Mofaz had been authorised to call up reservists if he deems it necessary and to reinforce a closure on Palestinian areas before the week-long Jewish Sukkoth holiday starts on Friday.
“In light of the holiday and dozens of terror alerts, the defence minister is authorised to order a limited call-up,” the source said but gave no details. Military sources said no call-up had been ordered yet and it would be strictly limited.
The military sources said the army would tighten closures of Palestinian cities, Palestinians would be barred from entering Israel, military training courses would be cancelled and security tightened between Israel and Palestinian areas.
The Gaza Strip is already divided by checkpoints into four sections and restrictions are tight in the West Bank. Israel says such steps are needed for security reasons but Palestinians and human rights groups call them collective punishment.
The new tensions have sparked discussion of whether three years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict could ignite violence in other parts of West Asia, but most political and military analysts say this is unlikely.
Israel’s air raid was its deepest strike into Syria since the 1973 Middle East war. Syria says the target was a civilian site and that it has the right to defend itself.
“If Israel attacks Syria one, two and three times, of course the people of Syria and the government of Syria and the army will react to defend ourselves,” Syrian ambassador Mohsen Bilal said in Madrid. Asked if that meant responding militarily, he said: “By all means.”
Israel’s only response was through a senior security source who said the ambassador’s statement was intended to present a tough image to the Arab world.
“Israel does not seek an escalation with Syria, and indeed has taken precautions to prevent that,” the source said.
Tension also flared at Israel’s border with Lebanon on Monday, when an Israeli soldier and a Lebanese boy were killed.
“Attacks and counterattacks like these are taking us down a steep and precarious path towards more violence,” UN West Asia envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said said after talks in Lebanon.