The Middle East took another step in the direction of war this afternoon as violence flared again in the West bank and Gaza. The international community will have to renew its diplomatic campaign to force the two sides to talk if war is to be avoided. Latest reports state that four Israeli soldiers in plain clothes strayed into a Palestinian area. They were taken to a police station for interrogation but meanwhile a huge crowd gathered, stormed the police station, killed two of the soldiers and set fire to their bodies outside in the street. The other two were handed over to the Israelis after the police regained control of the situation. By then it was too late. Israel retaliated by attacking Palestinian police stations with rockets in Ramallah. As this article goes to press, there are further reports of Israeli soldiers firing indiscriminately into crowds of Palestinian civilians. A spokesman for Yasser Arafat, Palestinian president, stated “This is an act of war”. As this region once again slips into an increasing spiral of violence, it seems that neither side can afford to make concessions. Arafat is kept in power by a careful and precise equilibrium of forces within the Palestine Liberation Organisation and he cannot be seen to be negotiating with Israel from a point of weakness. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, on the other hand, cannot make any concessions to the Palestinians in the wake of weeks of violence. Israel’s reactions are always extremely hard, and is fortunate to have the military and political protection of the USA behind it. Therefore Israel acts from a position of superiority and if the world community starts to show outrage, minor concessions after extreme violence, massacre even, are usually enough to calm the protests.It is literally a question of tanks against stone-throwing boys. Nevertheless, Israel can win a series of battles but cannot afford to lose the war. Such would put its very existence in question.

Tim Bancroft-Hinchey Correspondent of PRAVDA.Ru Lissabon

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