Thursday, March 07, 2002

MORE MIDEAST
Here's an interesting bit from an AP story about Israel. Even though the US isn't being pro-active in negotiations, Colin Powell is trying to make his thoughts known (it makes me wonder if he's doing it on his own initiative). Overall, this reads like a black comedy.

Referring to Sharon's statements this week that force would replace diplomacy and that Israel would strike relentlessly to crush Palestinian militants, Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Congressional committee: "If you declare war on the Palestinians and think you can solve the problem by seeing how many Palestinians can be killed, I don't know that leads us anywhere."

Sharon's office said in response that Israel has not declared war on the Palestinians and that the conflict "was imposed on Israel by the Palestinian Authority and its leader."

The Palestinians asked for immediate U.S. intervention. "They (the Israelis) are imposing a daily war against our people, our leadership and the peace process," said Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh.

Sharon ordered the military strikes after more than two dozen Israelis were killed last weekend in a string of Palestinian attacks. The prime minister has come under sharp attack at home for not offering Israelis a way out of their malaise. The past week has been one of the bloodiest in 17 months of fighting, with 80 Palestinians and 31 Israelis killed.

A key target in the new Israeli campaign has been Arafat's compound in Ramallah, to which he has been confined since December. Israeli helicopter gunships fired missiles at the complex for three straight nights, including late Wednesday, when two rockets struck several minutes apart.

At the time, Arafat was meeting in his office with Miguel Moratinos, the EU envoy to the Middle East. "We don't know where it hit, but it was very, very close," said the envoy's spokesman, Javier Sancho. The lights went out and the EU delegation was escorted out by flashlight, Sancho said. Arafat adviser Ahmed Abdel Rahman said that the windows were blown out in the room where Arafat and Moratinos had met just moments before.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was speaking to Arafat by phone at the time of the air strike, Arafat's advisers said. Arafat held out the phone and told Peres "Do you hear this?" when one of the missiles hit, the aides said. Peres, who has been saying publicly that force alone cannot bring about a resolution, declined comment Thursday.

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