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Sunday, January 7, 2007

Senior IDF staff to brief Peretz on Ramallah operation

Senior IDF staff to brief Peretz on Ramallah operation
By Amos Harel

Senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces will brief Defense Minister Amir Peretz today on the problems an undercover unit experienced during a daylight operation in Ramallah on Thursday, which resulted in an intense exchange of fire with Palestinians. The fighting occured while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai.
At the time Peretz was not aware of the operation and was informed about clashes in Ramallah by advisers - after the story appeared on the internet. The undercover troops, wearing civilian clothing to blend in with the locals, sought to arrest a fugitive in an office building in the center of the city. The soldiers shot and injured the man, but he managed to escape.
Following the shooting, the force was recognized as Israeli and was attacked by gunmen and by civilians throwing stones and firebombs. Four Palestinians were killed during the fighting and 20 others were injured.
During an initial debriefing soldiers in the force said the fugitive was armed with a pistol, but threw it away when he saw the IDF troops and ran off. Once their identity had been revealed, the force walked to the front of the building and waited to be evacuated, but by then they were caught in a hail of gunfire and firebombs.
Brigadier General Yair Golan, commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, will hold a detailed investigation into the incident in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Peretz asked Chief of Staff Dan Halutz for a briefing - on the basis of the interim findings - on what went wrong in the operation.
Defense sources said yesterday that Peretz has no intention of confronting the military over the operation, even though he was initially very angry that he was not informed of it.
At the IDF, they maintain that there is nothing flawed in the fact that the defense minister was not aware of the operation. Military sources described it as a "fairly routine" mission.
However, a daylight operation in the center of Palestinian cities requires the authorization of GOC Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh. Naveh had okayed the operation.
The same sources said it would be a mistake for Peretz not to confront the senior military officers on this matter because the risk inherent in the mission should have been obvious to them, and they should have been more sensitive to the timing, coinciding with the Olmert-Mubarak meeting in Sinai.

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