Tim Bancroft-Hinchey: MIDDLE EAST - GOLIATH ATTACKS DAVID

Tension has again broken out in the Middle East with the Israeli and Lebanese armies squaring up to each other either side of the frontier in a climate of growing hostility and a degree of hatred that has not been seen, even in this region, for decades. On 28th September, Ariel Sharon, the leader of Israel’s right-wing orthodox party, decided to visit the Esplanade of the Mosques, Haram-al-Charif, Jerusalem, the third most holy site in Islam. With an ironic air and clear sarcasm, he said: “But I have come in peace”. That was enough to ignite the Palestinian community in the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war into taking to the streets, in protest at Israeli provocation. Their main complaint is that Israel signs international agreements and accepts United Nations resolutions but then systematically breaks them, reneges on promises and constructs colonies on territories belonging to Palestinians outside Israel. Questioned about the significance of this act, a leader of the Moslem community in Portugal stated: “If you invited your best friend to dinner in your house and he then insulted you, your children and went to bed with your wife, how would you feel?” With this graphic description, the Moslem leader was saying that Sharon’s visit was one of extreme provocation. This brought the Palestinians onto the streets. What made them take up arms, however, was a shocking example of over-reaction, for which unfortunately the Israeli security forces are becoming more and more famous. On 30th September, 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura was shot dead as he tried to hide behind his father. Both were caught in a 45-minute non-stop hail of bullets from Israeli soldiers firing against Palestinian children hurling stones. Mohammed’s father was also shot and critically wounded. What ignited the flame further was that the ambulance driver who went to help them was also shot and killed. Since then, the Palestinians took up arms, most of them children launching stones with slings. The Israelis systematically attacked them with helicopter gunships, tanks, elite army marksmen with high-technology rifles, complete with telescopic sights and silencers. The result until the time of publication of this article is 88 dead (84 Palestinians and four Israelis), more than 2,000 injured, many critically, and more than 800 of these being children. 190 of these were wounded in the eyes, proving that the Israeli marksmen were trying to shoot to kill, at the head. The ammunition used was mainly real bullets covered in rubber, but not the standard much larger rubber bullets used by police forces around the world for crowd crisis control. The United Nations Organisation passed a resolution approved last Saturday night. This resolution “deplores the acts of provocation committed on 28th September in Haram-al-Charif in Jerusalem.” It goes on to say that it “condemns the acts of violence and particularly the recourse to excessive force against the Palestinians, which wounded and killed people”. The text was watered down at the insistence of the Americans, according to UN sources behind the scenes in New York, so that neither Ariel Sharon nor the Israeli security forces were specifically mentioned. The resolution was passed with 14 votes in favour and one abstention that of the United States of America. Richard Holbrooke, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, stated that the only reason why the USA did not veto the vote was that it would produce a precedent which the USA preferred to avoid. For one side, Sharon’s visit was “a clear demonstration of Israeli sovereignty” in the occupied West Bank. For the other, it was “a profanation of religious sites”. Whatever the reason, the international community is now working overtime to try to get the two sides to sit down around the negotiating table. The USA has asked France to use its special relationship with Iran to request an intervention with the Hezbollah (Party of God, pro-Iranian fighters based in southern Lebanon but controlled by the nearest neighbour, Syria). Syria’s new leader, Bashar al-Assad, meaning “Bashar the Lion”, son of historic figure Hafez al-Assad, is trying to court international support and he is also being requested to use whatever influence he can to calm the Hezbollah masses in southern Lebanon. Israeli general Yom Tov Samia and Palestinian General Abdel Razek al-Majeidah called for a joint commission to be set up to discuss the crisis. Military strength is definitely on the side of Israel, not least because the USA gives this country massive logistic support whenever they need it. The Jewish community in New York is more numerous than the population of the whole of Israel and the power of the Jewish vote in the USA is immense. The Jew Lieberman, for example, is Al Gore’s vice-presidential candidate in the next elections. However on the ground, the following statistics leave no doubt : PALESTINE 50 armoured cars 2 transport helicopters not allowed an army 30,000 police, armed mainly with Kalashnikovs

ISRAEL SYRIA 2,800 tanks several thousand pieces of artillery 700 combat planes 500 planes 180,000 active members ill-disciplined and of armed forces, on badly-equipped permanent state of alert army 420,000 reservists no match for well trained and can be IDF rapidly deployed (Israeli Defence Force) spy satellites Main threat : chemical nuclear missiles or biological weapons Equipment state-of-the-launched on missiles-art ; very well maintained

There is always a reason for such situations. Could it be in this case that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s party is in a minority position in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and that a possible strategic alliance with Sharon’s extremists could be attractive?

Tim Bancroft-Hinchey Correspondent of PRAVDA.Ru Lissabon

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Author`s name: Editorial Team