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Tension Continues to Build in the Middle East

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Tension Continues to Build in the Middle East
May 22, 2001
Israeli troops killed two Palestinian terrorists today on the Gaza border as they tried to plant a bomb. The Israeli army said the two men were seen planting a bomb on the edge of Bureij refugee camp, close to the Israeli border, when troops opened fire. The bodies were found after dawn and a roadside bomb was detonated. Palestinians identified them as a 48-year-old civilian and a 29-year-old policeman, both members of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction which has been leading armed attacks against Israel. A relative of one of the dead men confirmed that they were trying to place a roadside bomb. Over a loudspeaker at the Bureij camp, Fatah activists congratulated what it called the two new "martyrs" killed in an "exchange of fire with the Israeli enemy." Earlier, Israeli helicopter gunships fired at least seven missiles at Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said the helicopters attacked a mortar factory, in response to the more than 160 mortar shells fired by Palestinians since the beginning of the year. The Palestinians claimed they were civilian targets—an auto mechanic's workshop, a marble factory and a library. "This is part of the war on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. Israel is acting as a state above the law," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat. It is time for the world to stop this state before it is too late," he said, repeating a Palestinian demand for international protection. But Israel said that’s not going to happen. "International intervention and international forces won't solve the problem," Cabinet Minister Danny Naveh told Army Radio. "They can only serve the Palestinian interest to try to impose pressure on Israel and that's something we cannot accept."

Tensions have increased after Israeli tanks fired three shells at the home of Palestinian Preventive Security chief Jibril Rajoub yesterday in Ramallah. Rajoub, one of the most powerful figures in Judea and Samaria, was slightly injured. "The Israelis are insisting on assassinating every Palestinian. Whether he is a civilian. Whether he is a leader. Whether he is a simple person in the street," Rajoub told reporters. The Israeli army denied targeting Rajoub, but said its troops came under Palestinian fire and responded with tank shells aimed at "the precise source of the fire, which was definitely from the courtyard of Jibril Rajoub's house." The tanks opened fire after an Israeli soldier guarding the nearby community of Psagot was shot and moderately wounded by Palestinian fire, sparking a heavy gunbattle. The Israeli commander in the area, Lt. Col. Erez Winer, told Israel Radio that no place used to target his men would be immune. Israeli analysts expressed concern that the incident would draw Rajoub’s forces into the fighting. Rajoub, who speaks fluent Hebrew, is considered a pragmatist and a moderate, and until now his men have not been involved in armed attacks against Israel.

US Vice President Dick Cheney has stopped short of urging Israel to halt its use of American-made F-16 fighter planes in attacks against Palestinians, but appealed for an end to the escalating violence. "Both sides should stop and think about where they're headed here and recognize that down this road lies disaster," Cheney said on American television. He would not say what the United States would do if the Israelis continued to use the F-16s. "It's a very delicate situation," he said, adding he was not trying "to evaluate the exact decisions" by Israeli defense forces. Cheney was referring to Israel’s use of F-16 warplanes against Palestinian security forces in Nablus and Ramallah on Friday, in retaliation for a deadly suicide bombing in the coastal town of Netanya a few hours earlier. "A terrorist attack on Israelis, a bombing attack by Israelis against Palestinians. Innocent children on both sides being killed. This clearly goes beyond anything that can be justified by either side, I think," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The developments in the last few days...obviously are very worrisome." On another Sunday talk show, Senator John McCain of Arizona said Israel’s use of warplane's may indicate that the situation is "spiraling out of control." "I think we have to re-engage, and forcefully so, before the situation spreads throughout the Middle East," McCain said on ABC's "This Week." Foreign Minister Shimon Peres defended the use of warplanes today, during a visit to Moscow to discuss the Mideast crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I don't think there is such a policy in the country. I don't think we are going to use the F-16 as a daily weapon. I think this was an exception," Peres said. "We react militarily, not because we tend to be excessive, but because we are left without a choice."

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Jerusalem today to mark Jerusalem Day—the 34th anniversary of the reunification of the city during the Six Day War in 1967. It was on this day that Israeli paratroopers stormed through St. Stephen’s Gate into the Old City, and minutes later stood in awe before the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Temple. "The Temple Mount is in our hands," declared Paratroop Commander Mordechai Gur, in a statement that helped define the national ethos. Security is especially tight for the holiday, amid fears of terrorist attacks. Hundreds of policemen and soldiers have been deployed in the city, guarding the marchers, many of whom carried Israeli flags. The message of Jerusalem Day is that the city will remain the undivided, eternal capital of the state of Israel forever, and none of it should be handed over to the Palestinians. "Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people," a marcher told "israel today. "It has been the symbol of Jewish national and spiritual life for 3,000 years, and we’re not going to give it up."


Arab foreign ministers have recommended that Arab states suspend political contacts with Israel until it stops its military assaults against the Palestinians. "[We recommend] calling off all Arab political contacts with the Israeli government as long as the aggression and blockade against the Palestinian people and their national authority continues," a statement from the ministers said after an urgent meeting Saturday in Cairo. "Political contacts are being made under the barrel of an Israeli gun," said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. "This is totally unacceptable." The decision came after Israel used F-16 warplanes against the Palestinians on Friday, in retaliation for a suicide bombing at a mall in the coastal town of Netanya that left five Israelis dead. The F-16 raid killed 12 Palestinian policemen. "I believe it is the responsibility of the international community to protect the civilian population from the bombardment of fighter [jets], tanks and rockets...otherwise the whole international system will be a joke," Moussa said. Earlier Saturday, Arafat told the Arab League gathering in Cairo that the conflict has escalated into a "decisive battle for Palestine." Moussa had described recent Israeli actions as "systematic killing of the Palestinians with the aim of exterminating them." The suspension of contacts could doom a Jordanian-Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire. The ministers also called for the freezing of Israeli settlement building and expansion, an international boycott of goods produced in settlements, as well as an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly or Security Council to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Arab League decision was counter-productive since it failed to urge Yasser Arafat to stop the violence and did not condemn the suicide bombing that sparked Israeli retaliation. "This is not a decision, it`s propaganda," Raanan Gissin said, adding that the Arabs gave Arafat a "prize" for terrorism. "They need peace exactly as much as we do. Who will they talk to? Each other?" Gissin said the decision "will turn around like a boomerang and work against them." Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he regretted the conclusions of his Arab counterparts. "[It] was agreed to clarify all the disputed issues through dialogue at the negotiating table without the interference of terrorism and violence," Peres said in a written statement.

Sharon is defending the use of F-16 warplanes against the Palestinians, saying he`s prepared to use all of Israel`s military arsenal to fight terrorism."We will do everything necessary and use everything we have to protect Israeli citizens," Sharon said in an interview with Israel`s largest daily, "Yediot Ahronot." Addressing his security cabinet, Sharon said Israel faced "a lengthy campaign requiring determination and perseverance"—and pointedly offered "special thanks" to the air force. While the attacks appeared to have wide support in the Israeli public, which is tired of being bombed and shot at for the past eight months, the country`s dovish Hebrew newspapers blasted the use of warplanes. "Yediot" called it "pointless" and "stupid," while "Maariv" said it was "a grave mistake." There was also blistering criticism from the international community. "I...call on behalf of the United States for all leaders in the region to...do everything in their power immediately to bring into being an unconditional cessation of violence," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the suicide attack appalling, but branded Israel`s response "disproportionate."

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Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Tension Continues to Build in the Middle East