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BICOM Daily Briefing October 7 2003

Last updated: 2003-10-07

As Israelis commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, recent events serve as a reminder that some of Israel’s neighbours still remain a threat. As Palestinian terrorists continue to carry out murderous acts against innocent Israeli citizens, this time shattering the peaceful Jewish-Arab relations of Haifa, Israel has exercised its right to self-defence against those states that harbour and support the terrorist groups that have carried out such atrocities. Syria must end its promotion of the terror that sets it outside the pale of civilised nations.

Media Summary

The aftermath of Israel’s strike against a Palestinian terrorist training camp in Syria is the subject of all of the British press, as the papers report on US President George W. Bush’s assertion of Israel’s right to defend itself and The Guardian and Times offer analysis of the latest events in the Middle East. In its editorial, The Times criticises Syria’s continuing support for terrorism. In other news, The Independent, Times and Financial Times report on preparations to form a Palestinian emergency cabinet and statements from Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Abu Ala that he will not take on the terrorists. The Daily Telegraph’s Beebwatch focuses critically on the BBC’s reporting of the Haifa suicide bombing, while The Guardian publishes a commentary piece by Rana Kabbani referring to Palestinian refugees who had previously left Haifa. The Guardian also reports on a business partnership between an Israeli settler and an Iraqi leader in the reconstruction of the Iraqi state.

Quotes of the Day

Dan Gillerman, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations (05/10): “There are few better exhibits of state sponsorship for terrorism than the one provided by the Syrian regime.”

Dan Gillerman, (05/10): "Syrian complicity and responsibility for suicide bombings is as blatant as it is repugnant. The membership of this arch sponsor of terrorism on this council is an unbearable contradiction and an embarrassment to the United Nations.”

George W. Bush (06/10): “I made it very clear to the prime minister, like I have consistently done, that Israel’s got a right to defend herself, that Israel must not feel constrained in terms of defending the homeland.”

George W. Bush (06/10): “In order for there to be a Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority must fight terror and must use whatever means is necessary to fight terror.”

Behind the newsUN discusses Israeli attack on Syria; US stresses Israel’s right to self-defence:

The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting Monday night to discuss a draft resolution condemning Israel’s air raid on Syria but no decision was taken and diplomats said that the resolution would have to more balanced in order to win the nine votes needed for Council adoption. Even then, they said, the draft is likely to face a veto from Washington for not making any mention of the Haifa terrorist attack. Meanwhile, 25 of the wounded from the Haifa attack remain in hospitals, with one child in a critical condition and four people in serious condition.

Speaking at the White House, US President, George W. Bush, said that Israel must not feel constrained in its self-defence. Referring to a conversation with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday, Bush said that he made it clear that Israel has right to defend itself. However, he said that it is very important that any action Israel takes should avoid escalation and creating higher tension. The President criticised the needless murder of 19 people in Saturday’s suicide bombing in Haifa, saying that the Palestinian Authority must do more to fight terror and must use whatever means are necessary. Earlier, the White House spokesman supported Israel’s contention that the target in Syria was a terrorist camp. The spokesman said that the administration has reportedly told Syria that it needs to stop harbouring terrorists.

Killing of Israeli soldier escalates tensions on northern border:

Israel is on high alert on its northern border following the death of an IDF soldier on Monday and Israel’s retaliatory attack on a Palestinian terrorist training base in Syria on Sunday. Military sources said that the soldier, who was on a routine border patrol, was killed by a Hezbollah sniper firing across the border near Metulla. The IDF said that soldiers returned fire but did not identify whether anyone nor anything was hit. There were no reports of casualties from the Lebanese side.

Early Tuesday morning, three mortar shells were fired at an IDF post on the eastern sector of the northern border. No one on the Israeli side was hurt but security sources said that one of the shells fell short, killing a four-year-old Lebanese boy and wounding his twin brother when it exploded in their village. Within minutes of the explosion, Israeli fighter jets and helicopter gunships flew reconnaisance missions over the border area. The flare-up on the northern border came a day after Israel’s airstrike on a training camp for Palestinian terrorists, including those from Islamic Jihad, northwest of Damascus. The raid followed the suicide bombing claimed by Islamic Jihad on Haifa’s Maxim Restaurant in which 19 people were killed and more than 50 wounded. A senior Israeli military official has said that further action against Syria is being considered for harbouring terrorist groups.

Arafat installs emergency cabinet:

Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the Palestinian Prime Minister, and his eight-member emergency cabinet are to be sworn in today and according to Palestinian Basic law can serve for a period of up to two months. According to Ha’aretz, three portfolios were assigned: Nabil Sha'ath as foreign minister, Salam Fayad as finance minister and Nasser Yousef as interior minister. Qureia listed the other five members of the Cabinet as Saeb Erekat, the current chief negotiator; Nabil Abul Hummus, the current education minister; Jamal Shobaki, the current minister of local affairs; and two legislators from Arafat's Fatah movement, Abdel Rahman Hamad and Jawad Tibi. Qurei stressed the need for such a cabinet to enable the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to maintain a grip over the deteriorating security situation. Palestinian officials suggested that the move was aimed at paving the way for a crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists following the suicide bombing in Haifa, Saturday. Ahmed Qurei, however, has said he will endevour to avoid confrontation with the terrorist groups.

Comment and Opinion

Beebwatch (The Daily Telegraph, 07/10): “Something was missing from the BBC news bulletins on Saturday night following the atrocious suicide killing in Haifa: any direct reference to terrorism or terrorists. Jeremy Cooke's report from the scene, broadcast on the BBC1 evening news and News 24, followed the corporation's apparent policy of describing such outrages merely as "attacks". Nor did we hear the word "murder". Cooke's first words to camera were that the incident was "certain to provoke an Israeli response", as if Israel's retaliation was the real story.

There was only a tiny snatch of comment from an onlooker and none from a family member. Footage of an Israeli minister, Danny Naveh, attacking Arafat, was prefaced by a health warning: Naveh "was on hand to point the predictable finger of blame". (BBC correspondents rarely underline the predictability of Palestinians blaming Israel and America.) The nearest Cooke came to mentioning terrorism was in a live exchange on News 24: he said that the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, wanted to crack down "on what he called the leaders of the terror movement".

A search of the BBC website reveals that Palestinian "terrorists" are nearly always awarded quotation marks, unlike, say, the perpetrators of September 11. Why? BBC guidelines state: "The word 'terrorist' can appear judgmental in parts of the world where there is no clear consensus about the legitimacy of militant political groups." Another point is worth noting. BBC reports of suicide bombings typically mention the death of the killer before that of his or her victims ("A woman suicide bomber has killed herself and 19 other people"). Likewise, after an Islamic Jihad terrorist murdered two people at a Jewish New Year meal, one of them a seven-month-old baby, the BBC headline read: "Three dead in West Bank attack."”

The Times (07/10): “Mr Assad may see his chance of putting his own stamp on his Government slipping ever further away. But he is in no position to confront his father’s old guard. Much of this is his own fault. He has done very little to implement either political or economic reform. And he has continued support for terrorist groups despite repeated warnings from the West that this disqualifies Syria from any meaningful diplomatic role.

Dealing with a weak Government that remains central to Middle East peace is difficult. Britain has attempted a policy of engagement, in the hope that the younger Assad will eventually prevail and that enough young people want change to force a reassessment in Damascus. But both in his visit to Syria and during Mr Assad’s visit to London Tony Blair made clear that Syria’s continued hospitality for Hamas and Islamic Jihad was unacceptable. He should now use this tentative dialogue with Damascus to warn Syria that closing the two groups’ “operational” offices is not enough. Syria may insist that they are legitimate resistance to occupation; but to Israel, America, Europe and increasingly to worried Arab governments, these groups are seen as the sponsors of indiscriminate terrorist atrocities that have only set back the Palestinian cause. Syria should close all remaining offices and training camps immediately. Otherwise it risks more destabilising Israeli raids.”

Gavin Esler (The Scotsman, 07/10): “HERE’S a related question: do you think British attitudes to Arabs and Israelis have changed in the past decade? If so, why? My earliest memories of British newspaper coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict are of plucky little Israel standing up to Arab bullies with far greater populations; inventive Israel making the desert bloom; democratic Israel surrounded by Arab tyrannies with their hands on the oil the West needed. In recent years, these stereotypes have largely crumbled, to be replaced by images of hopelessness, endless suicide bomb attacks on cafes and parties, plus the killings of Palestinians.”

Ha'aretz (07/10): “A Palestinian training camp in Syrian territory, close to Damascus, was chosen as the target for the Israel Defence Forces' response. The camp came under an aerial assault in the early hours of Sunday morning, and resulted in few casualties. There were no reports on the damage caused in the attack either. It appears, however, that its principal purpose was not to bring death and destruction, but rather to steer Syrian President Bashar Assad away from supporting actions against Israel.

Syria is currently experiencing a period of political and military inferiority. Following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, Syria now borders four countries that are part of the American camp, and in the fifth - Lebanon - its control is more fragile than ever before. It has received stern warnings from Washington to stop supporting organizations that are killing Americans in Iraq. Other organizations that have found refuge in its territory, including those that trained at the camp that was attacked, are to be found on the U.S. administration's list of terror groups. The Bush administration's siding with Israel, its expressions of understanding for the response to the Maxim bombing, shouldn't have come as a surprise to Damascus. Moreover, the European condemnation of the bombing was too half-hearted and balanced to serve as any encouragement for Assad.”

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