JERUSALEM – A day after a tense summit, Israel warned the Palestinians on Wednesday it will launch airstrikes if militants attack during the evacuation of the Gaza Strip (search) set to begin in August.
Palestinian leaders were facing their own violence Wednesday. Gunmen shot at a building where Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) was meeting militants, and an explosive device was detonated as he and his entourage left the Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Qureia was not injured.
The Israeli government's pullout coordinator, Eival Gilady, said the military would call in airstrikes if necessary to stop Palestinian attacks, even if it meant causing civilian casualties.
"We shall act in a very intensive way. We shall do it in a very surgical way, we shall do it in a very accurate way," he said. "We want to do it on the basis of precise intelligence.
"But if we are compelled to use ... helicopters and planes, which cause more damage — severe collateral damage — with increased danger that people around a particular point of operations will be harmed, we shall have to do it," he said. "If there is terror, we shall respond."
Israel has said repeatedly that the pullout will not be carried out under fire. That led some to conclude that the evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank might be postponed if a shaky truce does not hold.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) rejected that conclusion in stark terms.
"There will be no pullout under fire. We will not stop the pullout. We will stop the terrorism," he said late Tuesday in a speech in Jerusalem.
Sharon said he and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) agreed at their summit Tuesday to cooperate on the pullout.
"We agreed during the meeting on full coordination of our exit from Gaza," Sharon said, adding this cooperation "will ensure a quiet exit, to the greatest benefit of both sides."
A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday the two sides agreed to begin planning to rebuild the airport in southern Gaza. The official, who refused to be identified, was speaking in Brussels, Belgium, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) was co-chairing a conference on Iraq.
Palestinians complained that no real progress was made at the summit, and no concrete steps were taken to ease the plight of Palestinians whose lives have been made difficult for more than four years by stringent Israeli security measures.
"This was a difficult meeting, and did not live up to our expectations," Qureia told reporters. "In all the basic issues for which we were expecting positive responses, there were none."
At the beginning of the summit, Sharon scolded Abbas for the upsurge in Palestinian violence. The chilly atmosphere never warmed.
Israeli officials said Sharon offered to hand over control of two more West Bank towns to the Palestinians and would consider releasing more prisoners if the Palestinians take steps to end violence. Israel was to hand over five towns as part of the truce, but it froze the process after the first two, charging that the Palestinians had not disarmed militants in the areas under their control.
A steady increase in violence has threatened the truce declared at the last Abbas-Sharon summit Feb. 8. After a string of attacks by Islamic Jihad (search) militants, Israel has scrapped its policy of restraint toward the violent group.
In a raid that ended early Wednesday, Israeli forces detained 11 suspected Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank, the second such operation in two nights.
The arrests were part of a new crackdown on the militant group following a recent wave of attacks that killed two Israelis. Israel arrested 52 Islamic Jihad members the day before, saying the group broke a cease-fire agreement that had drastically reduced violence since February.
The shootings near Qureia and his entourage Wednesday were the latest sign of chaos and internal unrest in Palestinian areas.
Balata refugee camp is a hotbed of militant activity, and many there oppose officials' efforts to marginalize them and resent reports of corruption among high-level Palestinian officials. Ordinary Palestinians are growing frustrated with the armed gangs that rule many of their towns and the increasing lawlessness they bring.
"This chaos must end," Qureia said after the incident.