Far-right National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that Israeli forces should employ gas to force Palestinian militants out of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, where scores of gunmen have been holed up for more than a week.
Lieberman told Army Radio that instead of endangering IDF infantrymen, Israel should order aerial bombings of militants in refugee camps. He said that the United States and NATO had often taken this course in the past, adding that "In southern Afghanistan, there were days that the United States wiped out 400 people a day in aerial bombings."
The former cabinet minister quit the government last month in protest over perceived policy concessions by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority.
Repeating a demand that the IDF go after Arafat physically in the Ramallah compound to which the PA leader has been confned, Lieberman said he would tell the cabinet, were he still a member:
"I demand erasing the mukata (Arafat's compound) from the face of the earth, with everyone inside. I demand going into every single hole, carry out a total mobilization, and clean out the area, but with a thorough-going cleaning - not an effort here and an effort there, not a limited operation, but an full-out war. How long do we have to talk about these bandits, these criminals, these terrorists?"
Asked if he also advocated destroying the Church of the Nativity, by tradition the site of the birth of Jesus and one of the holiest sites in Christianity, Lieberman said "We don't need to. We have enough (other) means.
"We can put gas in there and take them out - they'll simply come out," Lieberman said. "We have enough techinical means. We need neither harm the church nor obliterate it. It all depends on the political echelon. It must make a decision and give the order to get them out of there."
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