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BICOM Daily Briefing October 8 2003

Last updated: 2003-10-08

Israel welcomes US President George W. Bush’s reaffirmation of Israel’s right to defend her citizens from the threat of terror. Israel seeks peace and offers an outstretched hand to the Palestinians and to her neighbours but cannot tolerate the indiscriminate murder of her citizens in despicable acts of terror. Israel urges the international community to take the necessary steps to rein in Syria’s support and encouragement for terrorism lest it further destroy hopes for peace in the Middle East.

Media Summary

Diplomatic tensions between Israel and Syria following an Israeli airstrike on a terrorist training camp in Syria, as well as increasing pressure on Damascus from the US, is covered by The Guardian, Times and Financial Times. Meanwhile, the swearing-in of a new emergency Palestinian emergency cabinet and its boycott by two Palestinian ministers is reported in The Independent and Daily Telegraph, with The Guardian also reporting that Yasser Arafat has suffered a mild heart attack. In opinion pieces, Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian, expresses understanding for Israeli responses to the terror that has caused so much bloodshed and suffering to its population.

Quotes of the Day

Ariel Sharon (07/10): “Israel will not be deterred from defending its citizens and will hit its enemies any place and in any way. At the same time we will not miss any opening and opportunity to reach an agreement with our neighbours and peace.”

George W. Bush (07/10): “The decisions he makes to defend [Israel's] people are valid decisions. We would be doing the same thing.”

Terje Roed-Larsen, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (07/10): [the attack from Lebanese territory on Israel on Monday, which killed an Israeli soldier] “constitutes a clear violation of the Blue Line and Security Council resolutions and could escalate tension between Israel and its northern neighbours.”

Behind The News

Arafat reported to have suffered heart attack:

According to The Guardian, Yasser Arafat suffered a mild heart attack last week. This was not made public by the Palestinians because it would create panic. The report quoted an Arafat aide as saying that doctors believe that Arafat will make a full recovery. Nevertheless, regular visitors to the Muqata compound in Ramallah have noted that Arafat seemed frail and in poor health in the past few weeks.

Two Palestinian ministers boycott swearing-in of new PA cabinet:

The new Palestinian cabinet was sworn in on Tuesday and will be presented by Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala (Ahmed Qureia) to the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah on Thursday. Abu Ala has reportedly given in to demands by members of the Council to ask for a vote of confidence. Yasser Arafat appointed Abu Ala and the other cabinet members by decree on Sunday. Nasser Yousef, who was slated to become Interior Minister in the new government refused to take the oath of office absenting himself from the swearing-in ceremony due to a conflict over his authority in the Palestinian Interior Ministry and over Arafat's intention to appoint three aides in charge of the security services, which Arafat would ultimately control. Jawad Tibi, the designated health minister also did not attend the ceremony, reportedly also due to a dispute over the scope of his authority.

Bush stresses essential right of Israel to defend itself:

The White House has come out in support of Israel’s right to defend itself. US President George W. Bush said that the air raids into Syria were an essential part of Israel’s campaign to defend itself. Bush, however, stated that Israel should be careful not to invite escalation and to bear in mind the consequences of its actions.

Comment and Opinion

Jonathan Freedland (The Guardian, 08/10): “Viewed from inside Israel, Sunday's raid was the act of a nation driven half-mad with desperation and grief. On Saturday a suicide bomber had taken 19 lives in the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, Israel's most mixed city. Israelis look at that event and feel their spirit break. It's not just the bleak realisation that a family cannot even have a meal together before the holiest day of the year without their flesh being torn into pieces. It's the sense that nothing works.

Hawks had said that Israel should build a fence; that would keep the bombers out. But the fence is mostly up, and yet it could not stop Hanadi Jaradat or her belt packed with explosives and nails. Doves had said that Jews and Arabs had to learn to get along, to live and work together. Yet Maxim was just such an enterprise, owned for 40 years by an Arab family, the Matars, and a Jewish one, the Tayyars, with a shared Arab-Jewish clientele. But that did not save them.

So Israelis go quietly mad. For a country of 6 million, 19 dead is a huge calamity. Proportionally, that would mean a loss of 190 British lives. We remember the likes of Warrington, Deal and the Harrods bomb even now, years later. Yet the casualties in those attacks were one, 10 and six respectively. When they happened, Britons cried out for all kinds of revenge against the IRA. Is it a surprise that Israelis demand action when that combined number dies every couple of weeks?”

Ha'aretz (08/10): “Qureia said that he regards achieving a cease-fire between the Palestinian organisations and Israel as being of supreme importance. He emphasised his commitment to the road map, which says that the PA must act with determination to eradicate violence. Palestinian sources said that in the wake of the state of emergency declared in the Gaza Strip, a ban has been issued against armed men in the streets and that there will be arrests of Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists in the coming days.

The bitter lesson of the failure of the last government shows that along with a determined fight against the extremists, Qureia will have to deal wisely with Arafat. The refusal by Nasser Yusuf, tipped as the new interior minister, to swear allegiance to Arafat is testimony to the difficulties the chairman could hoist on the path of the new government. Yusuf wanted to protest against Arafat's decision to retain control over key security machinery, which will enable the chairman to loosen the reins on terror.”

“The government presented to Arafat yesterday is not the one Israel would have wished for. But the alternative to this government could be the rule of Hamas and armed gangs. Israel's citizens cannot allow themselves to give up the chance to get off the path of escalating violence and onto a path of calm and dialogue. Despite the doubts and scepticism, the government must wish the Qureia government success, and extend it a hand for peace.”

Michael Freund (The Jerusalem Post, 08/10): “The attack was a slap in the face to the Syrian autocrat and a well-deserved one at that, underlining his regime's continued support for an array of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Coming at a time when the US Congress is considering the Syria Accountability Act, a bill that would empower the president to impose sanctions on Damascus for its sponsorship of terror, the Israeli air strike is bound to reinforce the need for this important piece of legislation.”

“As Deputy Defence Minister Zev Boim told Israel Radio on Sunday, Damascus remains the headquarters for Islamic Jihad and Hamas, where the two groups plan their strategy and issue instructions to their members in the territories to carry out terrorist acts.

And, Boim noted, the Islamic Jihad cell in Jenin, which was responsible for this past Saturday's massacre of 19 Israelis in Haifa, maintains regular and ongoing contact with the leadership in Damascus.”


The Israel Daily Briefing is supplied by BICOM