Israel Pulls Back after US Criticism; Gaza Strip Incursion Attacked by Colin Powell

Article excerpt

Israel will pull its forces out of a strip of Palestinian territory in Gaza it seized on Monday, a senior official said last night after the United States criticised the Israeli move.

The official said that Israeli forces would move out of the pocket overnight.

Israeli tanks seized the north-east corner of the Gaza Strip after Palestinians fired mortar shells at the Israeli town of Sderot.

The Israelis had said that they would hold the territory until the danger passed.

An Israeli military commander had said that his forces might remain there for months.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called the unprecedented Israeli move into Palestinian-controlled territory overreaction and exaggeration.

Palestinians said that it was a violation of signed agreements.

The Palestinian Authority called Israel's intention to stay in its new position "aggression against the Palestinian people".

After the mortar shells were fired at Sderot, a desert town about two miles from the Gaza border fence, Israel unleashed a retaliatory strike, hitting Palestinian police posts and headquarters' buildings with tank and rocket fire.

An Israeli army bulldozer, guarded by tanks, moved towards the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, clearing farmland.

The Israelis said that their intention was to move Sderot out of mortar range.

Gen Powell's statement, read by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, also called on the Palestinian leadership to implement its promise to renounce terrorism and violence and to exercise control over all elements of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. …