Middle East spirals out of control

Palestinians and Israelis have not been further apart for decades as everything points towards a worsening of the conflict. Israel speaks of total war as thousands of reservists are called up and Israeli troops fire at unarmed international pacifists.

Pope John Paul II declared in his Easter Sunday speech that “The Holy Land is once again involved in horror and despair”, saying that “Nobody can stay silent and inactive, no religious or political leader”. The United Nations Security Council responded to the situation be producing a flaccid document calling on both sides to return to the negotiating table. UN Security Council resolution 1402 calls for an immediate cease-fire by both sides and orders the Israeli forces to withdraw from the occupied territories, while reiterating the clauses of Resolution 1397, an earlier document which had appealed for the end to all acts of violence, including acts of terror, provocation, incitement to violence and destruction.

Meanwhile, President George Bush leaned towards the Israeli position by insinuating that Yasser Arafat is not doing enough to solve the crisis. By placing the onus on Arafat, despite the fact that he has been isolated in his office in Ramallah for four days, without electricity, running water or food, places the US foreign policy firmly on the side of Israel. The call by the US President for Yasser Arafat to “stand up and condemn, in Arabic, these attacks” will have fallen on deaf ears among the Palestinians, furious at the treatment of their President.

This fury has once again spilled onto the streets, with two more suicide bombings over the Easter weekend, in Haifa and Bethlehem, causing 17 dead and 30 people injured, leading Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to produce some more venomous rhetoric: “This war was imposed on us. This terrorism is orchestrated and directed by one man only, Yasser Arafat”, who had earlier been referred to as “the first enemy of peace”.

The state of Israel has declared total war on terrorism and is to call up part of its estimated 420,000 reservists, to add to its active armed forces of some 186,500 personnel. In a hardening of positions, Hammas has claimed responsibility for the attack in Haifa, and claims that Sharon may be on the list of future victims, while Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, of Hezbollah, has called for “money, arms and men” to step up the conflict.

The retaliation for the attacks was swift, with 30 Palestinian security force members being killed on Sunday night in Ramallah.

On Monday afternoon, a hundred international demonstrators who took part in a march to press for peace in Ramallah, were fired at by Israeli troops. Five peace protesters and a Palestinian cameraman were taken to hospital for treatment. Their condition is as yet unknown.


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