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Middle East Crisis Headlines - 2/19/2001

Monday, February 19, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: , ,

Middle East Crisis Headlines - 2/19/2001
Israel has sent a stern warning to Lebanon and Syria, after Hizbollah guerillas fired rockets at an Israeli patrol on the northern border Friday, killing an Israeli soldier. Israel warned both countries that they would suffer "severe consequences" if Hizbollah is not restrained. In the past, Israel has bombed Lebanese infrastructure in response to Hizbollah attacks. For now, however, caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak has decided not to retaliate, fearing that would give Hizbollah an excuse to launch a major offensive in the north—an escalation that would no doubt escalate violence in the Palestinian territories. Israeli generals believe that if the situation in Judea, Samaria and Gaza deteriorates, Hizbollah is likely to open up a second front in the north. That could quickly bring Syria into the conflict, transforming the Palestinian uprising from a localized conflict into a regional war.

Israel is closely watching the situation in Iraq, after the US air strike there on Friday. Israeli officials say they’re taking Saddam Hussein’s threats of retaliation seriously, even though they don’t see any imminent danger or need for any special measures, such as ordering people to get out their gas masks. "First of all, one must relate seriously to Saddam Hussein because until now whatever he threatened he also tried to carry out," said Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. "The danger is not an immediate danger. The danger is in what he is building and preparing. Based on our assessment, he is building long-range missiles and is equipping himself with biological weapons, and is making every effort to build nuclear weapons to which he was very close only 10 years ago," Sneh said. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Prime Minister Barak to update him on the air attack. The two agreed to remain in contact as the situation warrants. Israel’s concerns stem from the fact that Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at the Jewish state during the Gulf War in 1991. The Palestinians, who supported Saddam during the Gulf War, came out against the US attack. Demonstrators in Palestinian-ruled cities burned American and Israeli flags and pictures of President Bush. Saddam is especially popular among Palestinians, since he has paid $10,000 to the families of each "martyr" killed in the intifada.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak is facing growing opposition in his own Labor party to his decision to serve as defense minster in Ariel Sharon’s national unity government. "A national unity government is in the eyes of many of us a forgery as it cannot advance the diplomatic process, and the Labor party must not join," said ultra-dovish Cabinet Minister Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords. Beilin was among many Labor parliamentarians and Israeli newspaper commentators who called on Barak to make good on his promise to take a "time-out" from politics after his landslide election defeat to Sharon. Barak, however, has defended himself against charges that he’s trying to save his political skin. "Seventy percent of our voters ask that we establish a national unity government. It's the logical result of the voter's verdict," Barak said. Barak could face a tough battle in Labor's 1,700-member central committee which must approve the coalition agreement. The committee could meet this week, if the coalition guidelines are finalized.

A few days after the UN Mideast envoy warned that Palestinian institutions are on the verge of collapse because of a lack of funds, a senior Palestinian official has said the Arab states are partly to blame. Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein accused the Islamic Development Bank of "refusing to release the funds" needed to support the Palestinians. "Is the Islamic Bank waiting for the uprising to end to build a hotel or a road?" Abu Medein said in an Arabic newspaper interview today. "We are telling the bank that we need [money] now for bread and for the daily medical and educational needs of citizens. As for the hotel and the roads, we have no need for them," he said. Palestinian officials say less than a 10th of the $1 billion in emergency aid promised by the Arab League in October had been handed over by the Jeddah-based bank. It appears that the Arab nations, like Western donors, are concerned about rampant corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Donor funds have often found their way into the pockets of Palestinian officials, while the masses have remained in poverty.

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Middle East Crisis Headlines - 2/19/2001