Poraz: Evacuate Netzarim, turn it into army base

The infiltration of the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim and the death of three soldiers there on Friday has sparked a heated debate among politicians over whether Israel should withdraw from the settlement in the heart of the Strip.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Sunday’s cabinet meeting that the government needs to hold a discussion on the future of the settlement. Lapid told the ministers that „we must not award a prize to violence, but the time has come for the government to hold a discussion on the future of Netzarim.” He then asked, „is it logical that a battalion of soldiers should guard one settlement where just 60 families live?” He said that there was a broad, public opposition to the Netzarim settlement and it is thus not right that the government should continue to ignore the public on this matter. When Minister Without Portfolio Uzi Landau said that he had seen a soldier crying on television over the death of her friends, Lapid retorted, „What do you want, that she laugh?” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, however, oppose such a debate and have ruled it out. They believe that the army needs to probe the incident and draw and implement its own conclusions. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz told the cabinet that the residents of Netzarim should be evacuated and the settlement turned into a military area, where a small number of commando soldiers would be posted. He said that Israel should not fully withdraw from Netzarim, as this would be interpreted as a surrender. He also suggested setting up an electronic fence around all settlements in the territories to prevent such tragedies. Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam said he was vehemently opposed to evacuating Netzarim, saying that this would be perceived as weakness. „We must remain in Netzarim and reinforce is so that when there is someone to talk with [on the Palestinian side], the border will pass close to it,” he said. He however said that the army should review posting female soldiers at bases inside the Gaza Strip and other parts of the territories. Labor Party MK Amram Mitzna said Sunday that Israel, „should have withdrawn from Netzarim yesterday and as that did not happen, it should be left immediately.” Mitzna said that such isolated points have no value and that Israel could protect its six million citizens far more effectively and hermetically by „sitting outside of the populated territories.” He added that remaining in the Gaza Strip as a whole and Netzarim in particular is a mistake. Another Labor MK, Haim Ramon, said over the weekend that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee must discuss the „abandonment of soldiers without weapons in the most dangerous place in Israel.” The two female soldiers killed in the incident had their personal weapons taken away from them by the arm due to cut backs. Ramon, echoing Mitzna, said that there was no moral, security or diplomatic utility in remaining in the Gaza Strip. Labor Party Secretary-General MK Ophir Pines-Paz has asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to instruct the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the Netzarim infiltration. Ophir-Pines says that the security flaws at Netzarim must be examined and that it must be considered whether it is justified to continue endangering the soldiers who guard the isolated settlement and the settlers. MK Melli Polishuk-Bloch (Shinui) said that the attack proved that the time has come to evacuate Netzarim, before the next tragedy. She called on Sharon to implement the U.S.-backed road map for peace in the Gaza Strip, even if it means doing so unilaterally. Meretz on Sunday filed a no-confidence motion against the government in light of the Netzarim attack. The vote on the motion is expected to be held next week. Meretz MK Yossi Sarid called on IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon to resign over the Netzarim attack. Staff Sergeant Alon Avrahami, 20, from Or Yehuda and Sergeant Sarit Shneor-Senior, 19, from Shoham, who were killed in the Friday morning attack, were laid to rest Sunday afternoon in the Holon and Ramle cemeteries respectively. Sergeant Adi Osman, 19, from Kfar Sava, who was also killed in the attack, was buried Friday in her home town. The wounded soldiers, a man with moderate injuries and a woman in serious condition, were airlifted to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon for treatment. The woman underwent surgery and is recovering in the Intensive Care Unit, Army Radio reported. The head of the IDF’s southern command, Major General Dan Harel, said Friday that the army would launch a full investigation into the attack. Army Radio reported on Sunday that the initial investigation of the incident had found that the guards at the post were not negligent and that even if the soldiers had weapons with them in the rooms where they slept, the incident would probably not have ended any different Harel added that female soldiers serve throughout the Gaza Strip, just as men do. A senior officer however said an initial investigation into Friday’s attack had not revealed „serious flaws” in the way the forces acted. Speaking after the attack, Harel said militants, aware of the heavy mists that close in on Gaza at this time of year, were increasing the intensity of their attacks. „The fact that in recent days we have killed several terrorists in various parts of Gaza is proof of this,” he said. Einat Osman, the sister of Adi, who was killed in the attack, said that a month ago the IDF reclaimed the weapons of female soldiers serving in Netzarim due to budget cuts. Military sources said over the weekend that the IDF is considering arming all its forces, combat and non-combat alike, serving in the Gaza Strip. The sources confirmed that the weapons had been reclaimed from the women killed at Netzarim, but said they would not have made much difference since the soldiers were asleep at the time of the attack. Harel said one terrorist entered the camp and began shooting at the camp’s barracks, while the second remained outside the perimeter. He had apparently entered the settlement an hour earlier but was undetected despite the many soldiers on guard. „The soldiers could not see even one meter in front of them because of the mist,” one officer said. The gunman inside the camp killed three soldiers in their beds before being shot and killed. The IDF launched a search of the area for the second attacker, who managed to flee. A caller to al-Manar television, run by Hezbollah, said Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility. The attacker was identified as Samir Fouda, 21, a Hamas militant from Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp. The two Palestinian groups announced after a meeting in Beirut on Monday that they would strengthen their cooperation. During the infiltration, Palestinians diverted Israeli troops by firing at soldiers stationed near Netzarim, Israel Radio reported, but no one was hurt.