Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY: Arafat under fire

The two suicide bombings at the weekend in Jerusalem and Haifa caused a provisional casualty list of 30 dead and 200 injured, causing a wave of protests from around the world and a characteristically swift and decisive reaction from Israel.

Responsibility for the attacks on Saturday night and Sunday morning has been claimed by Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two extremist factions within the Palestinian movement but not condoned by the Palestine Authority of President Yasser Arafat.

Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation, issued a statement in which he “categorically condemned” the attacks, appealing to the Palestine Authority “to act immediately and decisively to arrest and bring to justice those responsible for these acts of terrorism, and previous attacks”. Kofi Annan said he was “shocked and horrified” by the suicide bombing attacks.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Yasser Arafat after hearing the news and confirmed that Arafat told him that these acts were directed as much against him as against Israel.

Egypt and Jordan also condemned the attacks by the extremists but called on all sides to not let these incidents derail the peace process under way. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah II of Jordan held a summit on Monday to discuss the “urgent situation” in the Middle East.

The situation is at flash point. It is reported that the Israelis will wait for some time to give Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Authority the chance to show that they mean to crack down on the terrorist elements living on their lands, if not under their protection. However, an all-out military invasion on Palestine Authority lands is not ruled out and neither is the possibility of a civil way inside the Palestinian areas as the Authority implodes, with extremists on one side fighting moderates on the other.

Yasser Arafat has had to walk a constant tightrope between not being seen to give in to the Israelis but at the same time trying to negotiate some form of a deal on which to base future claims. The Palestine Authority has condemned the attacks vigorously and has made tens of arrests.

The Israelis, however, are suspicious because, as they claim, the Palestinian Authority has arrested suspects of terrorism before, only to release them weeks or even days later. Ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Sky News on Monday that Yasser Arafat’s helicopters, destroyed by the Israeli forces, had been used in the past to smuggle arms into Israel.

Since 1994, 16 terrorist attacks inside Israel have caused 230 deaths and 911 injuries.